Hypocrites are a horrid lot, a bane on our collective existence, a travesty of humanity. I know this because I am a hypocrite. You might be one too, but I don’t want to be presumptuous because I don’t know you well enough, yet. I do not believe that hypocrisy is a trait that defines me, but I would be an even worse hypocrite if I pretended that my ideals and my actions are always completely congruent. Hypocrisy is a loaded, pejorative term and that is deservedly so. It smacks of deceit and other untoward undertakings. Yet, there is an overlooked bright side to the darkness that the idea conjures.
Parents are the worst hypocrites. We chastise our children for perceived transgressions that are a quarter as bad as those that we committed in our youth. We harangue them to eat healthily as we mainline chicken wings and beer. The audacity of our dissonance is amazing. Largely though, parental hypocrisy comes from a great place: we want our progeny to avoid the mistakes that we have made. Generational succession is merely a passage of time unless we take the effort to imbue our kids with the wisdom that we learned the hard way. In truth, parents, unless completely saintly, have little choice but to be hypocrites: we can’t reasonably tell our offspring to leap off 90-foot cliffs or to drive cars around the high school track.
My profession requires and allows me to give counsel to others in need. It is advice gleaned from deep levels of research, experience, and intuition. If I may say so, I believe it to be excellent guidance. And, the reason that I can reach this conceited conclusion is because I seem to have a serious problem with following my own directions. The pathways for resolution of others’ disputes appear incredibly clear to me; I can see them as if drawn in the ether. But, when faced with my own conflicts, I can devolve into the worst kind of tantrum-throwing tyrant, the same behavior that I often lament when conducted by non-me. This hypocrisy validates the value of my advice. I am my own guinea pig, testing the dangers of ignoring my guidance so that my clients and friends need not suffer the same fate.
To be clear, I am not proud of being a hypocrite and I strive to be better, always. But, I am at least glad that others can benefit from this facet of my imperfection. We may not be able to avoid hypocrisy, but there is a big difference between acknowledging it and allowing it to go unchecked. The former is human, the latter much less so.
In my examples, the suffering imposed by hypocrisy is either benign (my daughter getting frustrated with me) or self-inflicted (I suffer the penalties of my own failings). And, in each case, there are people that benefit. These boons do not exist in other forms of hypocrisy, particularly of the political variety. In these contexts, the equation is inverse: the hypocrites reap the spoils, while the rest are left to chafe under the consequences. Those type of hypocrites earn the scorn that is traditionally associated with the term.
Of course, I may be a hypocrite for pushing that perspective.