I’ve been thinking about this term for a long time. I’ve been called a hypocrite by a number of people. Interestingly, it has almost always been by those are mad at me for trying to bring my life in line with my values, not by those who are mad that I’ve strayed from them. As the linguist that I am, I decided I should really look into the term, and what it means to decide if I am indeed a hypocrite.
The definition that I’ve found that I’ll use as the basis of our discussion is “a false show of having a virtuous character, that one does not really have.”
There are a few problems with the practical application of this definition. Because it rests on the definition of character, we must also define that term. Having dual definitions for the term in different situations leads to a problem. In some cases we are willing to view character as an aggregate of our lives, but in other situations, such as when we want to use an epithet such as “you’re a hypocrite” we are willing to view one single data point as sufficient to damn the person with whom we are angry. To damn another in this way is dishonest, as it refuses to acknowledge the rest of their lives.
Just as I have often commented on and reveled in the complexity of the human psyche, the level of complexity in human interaction is exponentially greater than the complexity of one individual. Because of this, pinning down the core of a human being is not something that can be done in any short period of time. If the aggregate of their life truly is the whole of their character, then the whole of their life must be examined.
This is not to say that there is not momentary hypocrisy, but to then equate the momentary with the lasting is a mistake that we can ill afford, in both our interactions with others, and even more importantly, in our interactions with ourselves.
Such a condemnation as hypocrites and discrediting honest strivings based a single, or even multiple data points can best be described as denial. Typically we think of denial as a means to ignore a painful truth, but it can just as easily be employed to shield ourselves from hope, even from a truth that will make our lives easier. I would even say that this type of denial is even more dangerous.
Denial of our faults may allow us to keep living in them, blissfully oblivious to the truth, but denial of our strengths will paralyze us. Once we have denied our goodness by declaring ourselves to be fake, hypocritical, deceivers etc. we no longer feel that there is anything worth fixing. Declaring oneself to be evil will lead more quickly to a loss of hope than will declaring oneself to be good when one is not. If the identity of self is altered so as to not view oneself as valuable, then the evaluation will lead one to decide that whatever the cost, it is not worth it.
There is an interesting paradox between personal responsibility and a healthy distancing of ourselves from our actions. I think this is why I like the idea of acknowledging truth. It is true that I have done the things mentioned in this blog, as well as some other things that I have not yet written about. (I wrote about the most impactful things first….) The thing is, that fact does not negate that I am a son of God.
My bishop said something to me about a month ago that struck me fairly hard. I’ve since adopted it as one of my affirmations. (which I use all too infrequently) He said, “you are a great man who struggles, as all great men have struggled.” The idea that part of being great is not having struggled, but struggling itself, helps me to accept my mis-steps as part of the process, rather than as pitfalls from which I cannot recover.
As I was thinking about character, the image of a statue came to mind. it wasn’t just any statue, but a large statue of a man on a horse. The statue was outdoors, and had been there for nearly a hundred years. The sculpture was once smooth and polished, but over the years, the rain and hail have pitted the top of the man’s head, his shoulders, and much of the horse on which he sits. There is even a crack in the man’s shoulder of his outstretched arm, a tree-branch having fallen on it during a particularly rough windstorm.
The sculpture is by no means in pristine condition, but he still sits proudly on his steed, looking toward the horizon he will never reach. He is still the masterpiece that he once was, in spite of his battle scars. In fact, the sculpture has been changed by those battle scars to a more human form. He has become a symbol of perseverance, rather than perfection. His core did not change because of his experience, only his surface.
It is this core that must be rediscovered, rather than the superficial being unrelentingly being scrutinized. By realizing that our surface is not our core, we can draw strength from the core to both live with the imperfections, and to re-finish them over time. I’m still working on finding my true core, but I’ve come to allow myself some additional leeway until I do, as getting mad at a pitted surface will never allow me to see the noble rider.