the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.
We see it everywhere: people condemning others for the very thing that they do themselves. And we see the response to this, people railing against, complaining about, and outraged with other people’s hypocrisy. After all, we live consistent with our moral code. None of us are hypocrites. It’s those other people, or is it?
Our minds seek to create consistency with our actions. So when our thoughts are inconsistent with what we do, we tend to change our minds to conform with our actions since it’s easier than changing our actions. This is what Benjamin Franklin knew when he asked his arch-nemesis whether he could borrow a book from him. The nemesis reluctantly agreed and after Franklin read and returned the book, his arch nemesis started treating Franklin better — having now done him a favor, his beliefs needed to align with that.
Since we like consistency, how is it that hypocrisy exists at all? All of us can correct our own inconsistencies if we see them and the problem with hypocrisy is that we simply don’t see it. If we knew we were acting hypocritical we would probably change, but when someone confronts us about it, we’re more likely to rationalize away the inconsistency (which is actually another common way we respond to inconsistencies). We attribute the cause of our own actions to the situation where as we interpret the cause of others actions as stemming from their character. Someone accuses us of hypocrisy, our knee jerk reaction is to defend our reasons for acting the way we do and explain why it’s totally different. Yet we note the hypocrisy of others and are shocked they can’t see it.
The problem is that we’re all hypocritical. We just can’t see it unless we have some mirror that shows it to us very clearly. Our children are probably the most commonly discussed mirror. Most parents find out that what they say and what they do are not the same when their children do what parents do and not what they say. Training our children can’t be done only by verbal instruction but must also involve a change in our actions. Children aren’t the only mirror, others see it too and we should listen to those around us who are willing to point out our hypocrisy:
None of us want to believe that we are inconsistent, but we are. We judge others with standards that even we don’t follow. It’s one of the reason Jesus warned in Matthew 5:3-5 (NIV)
3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
None of us lives a life perfectly aligned to our beliefs and when others call us on it, our first response should be to pause and consider. Our second response should usually be to apologize and either change our judgements or change our actions so that we can live more consistently.