Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan
Almost in every crack and crevice, someone can be heard dictating someone else’s pace...always suggesting that they have the process right and it’s wrong on other sides. That’s when we are certain that hypocrisy is in the midst. And that can be quite annoying to the ear and eye—parents chiding their children for doing things that they themselves are involved in; teachers can be heard bellowing to students to not do stuff that they do; spouses accusing each of other of doing things that they’re both engaged in—all false do’s and don’ts.
Research shows that the origin of hypocrisy stems from insecurity which borders around selfishness; it’s all about acting and stage-playing so as to demonstrate a false sense of power over others. It manifests itself throughout various spheres of life right before our very eyes…groups of one kind or the other imposing lists of rules to follow which the inventors don’t abide by.
Most of what is offered to the public particularly in the realm of consumerism are all filled with pockets of deception aimed at achieving a specific purpose much to the detriment of those caught. Hypocrisy is everywhere and hence a world of confused minds.
Whilst it can’t be avoided because of social structures, it is indeed a frightening phenomenon for kids in particular who learn more by observing their elders and less by verbal commandments. It’s indeed regretful that such mannerisms spur hate and venom within the minds of kids so negatively impacted. Dialogue around hypocrisy can only be meaningful if the subjects agree to engage in deep introspection which forms the platform for mature exchange and constructive criticism. Coming from any other place would be useless.
In attempting to do some unravelling of the reasoning behind hypocritical behaviours, Dr Jeremy Sherman, a US-based biophilosopher and social science researcher studying the natural history and everyday practicalities of decision-making, shared some interesting perspectives in a detailed piece posted in Psychology Today.
According to Sherman “it’s not having double standards but pretending you have single standards”. He argued “claiming the high ground…you say things like ‘don’t interrupt’ as though you never interrupt; ‘don’t be judgmental,’ as though you’re never judgmental. ‘Don’t generalise,’ as though you’re not generalising about their generalisations….you summon whatever half-baked moral principle that makes your case in the moment".
To reinforce his position, Sherman noted that the more positive you are about one thing, the less positive you are about its opposite. If you really love justice, you really hate injustice.
Always be this and never be that…because the one-size-fits-all rules are easy to remember, fun to preach, useful to wield in arguments and impossible to follow. “We all try to figure out the context in which it’s better, to be honest versus dishonest; receptive versus unreceptive; giving and uniting…that’s what we really do and should do,” he said. In validating his logic, Sherman reiterated that we don’t become hypocrites by sometimes being dishonest, unreceptive or uniting, but by pretending that one never should be, as though it’s possible to live by these impossible moral principles, rather than admitting that like everyone, we’re struggling with moral dilemmas.
“Attacking each other with one-size-fits-all moral rules is how we become hypocrites, defending ourselves when the rules come back to bite us is how we reinforce our hypocrisy; we declare some impossible categorical rule and then are forced to gerrymander its border in self-defence.”
To further strengthen his argument, Sherman noted that we say don’t be dishonest, and when caught, we say "it wasn’t being dishonest but tactful"…totally different. “We declare ourselves committed to some virtue and then just slide whatever we want in and out of that category." Honesty is a virtue …dishonesty is a vice.
Based on Sherman’s summary, our fake absolute moral principles stunt our moral growth. If we want to become wiser, we must trade in our unworkable moral absolutes for moral frameworks modelled on the serenity prayer with its quest for ever-improved wisdom to know the difference between situations that call for this versus that response.
Dealing with hypocrisy requires tact and wisdom; learn to ignore distractions and based on your own intuition, follow your moral compass. Avoid condemning others and instead focus on your exchange and interaction with others using the treat others how I want to be treated principle; learn to identify and discern context and how that impacts your way of thinking and rationalising situations. Listen to your cognitive dissonance which has to do with inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes particularly in relation to behavioural decisions; avoid commentaries until you’ve actually had an experience. Despite the odds, include ethics and integrity in your actions.
Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan is president of the International Women’s Resource Network.