This I Believe

Timothy - Sterling Hts, Michigan
Entered on March 22, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in hypocrisy.

You heard me right: “I believe in hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy is the condition of pretending to uphold a particular ethic or moral while not actually doing so. Hypocrisy is generally frowned upon, and this is understandable.

However, I would like to point out some of hyprocrisy’s virtues, many of which may not appear obvious initially. The first stems from hypocrisy’s etymology. The word grows out of the Greek hypokrisis, which means “play acting”. The Greek word hypokrite was the term for “actor”, and we are quite fond of actors. Americans shell out millions of dollars annually to watch them perform in theaters and cinemas, where they pretend to be people they are not, living lives they have never lived, speaking lines they have never spoken, and espousing philosophies they have never held. Contrasting these performances with the actors’ actual lives is often an exercise in stark contrast. So it should be noted that we are not inherently against hypocrisy.

Of course, most of you will say that this is some pretty play with language that does not touch the real meaning or offense of hypocrisy, and to an extent I agree with you. So let’s get to it.

In common use, a hypocrite is a person who loudly espouses a value while not actually living by the value in his or her life. Certainly this sounds unethical, and in many cases it may be, especially if the hypocrite stands to gain personally by his subterfuge. What, however, of cases in which the hypocrite does not, himself, gain anything, but instead intends to instruct? Hypocrisy is, at the very least, a statement that a particular style of behavior is moral, or ethical, or desirable—even if the hypocrite does not always live up to the stated ideal. The hypocrite at least understands what his behavior ought to be, even when it isn’t. Surely this is preferable to a person stating that there are no standards of ethics, morals, or desirable behaviors.

Consider some object examples. It could be called hypocritical for a parent, once—or even currently—a drug-user or tobacco addict, to instruct his children not to smoke crack or cigarettes. It could be called hypocritical for a death-row inmate to write a book about his life, in which he explains why his life was a waste not worth imitating. But aren’t these actions preferable to silence on the parts of those concerned?

Obviously it would be far better for all of us to make statements in support of ethical behavior while also behaving in an ethical manner; I do not propose hypocrisy as a superior alternative to good living. But in cases such as those mentioned, I find it to be more valuable than might otherwise be thought.

You heard me right. I believe in hypocrisy.