I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago and the subject of hypocrisy was brought up. To me, it’s a super interesting subject. Let’s start with the definition. According to my trusty dictionary, Hypocrite is a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs; a person who puts on an appearance of virtue or religion; a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs. An example of this is someone who advocates for everyone to vote but doesn’t always vote themselves. It comes from the Greek word Hypokrisis which means acting or pretending.
There have been so many scandals involving hypocrisy. Al Gore urges us to reduce our carbon footprint yet uses his private jet often. Eliot Spitzer went after prostitution rings yet used prostitutes himself. Little Jimmy gets caught smoking and his mother freaks out on him and tells him how bad smoking is for him yet smokes a pack a day. All of these acts of hypocrisy bring to question the hypocrite’s credibility. There’s a little voice in your head right now perhaps telling you that we have all been guilty of hypocrisy – but it bothers us so much when other’s do it. That, in and of itself, is an act of hypocrisy. So why do we do it?
A really smart guy named Piercarlo Valdesolo, a professor at a super smart place for smart people, conducted a study where half of the participants would arrive before their counterparts. The early arrivers were told that there were 2 tasks to be completed. One relatively easy one, a photo hunt and one more complex one, a complicated math problem. They were told they could decide which task to complete and which task their late arriving counterpart would complete. 94 per cent of the participants chose the easier task leaving the more complex task for their counterpart. What is interesting is how many of those same participants rated a similar act when completed by someone else as immoral or selfish. BUT…every single person who made the easier choice rated their own act of choosing the easier task more leniently. Further to that study, the participants were all given wristbands connoting a team or group affiliation and then asked to watch the study again with different participants wearing the wristbands. On average, the participants judged it to be unfair for someone in the other group to give themselves the easy task but considered it fair when someone in their own group made the same decision. Hmmmm….
Here is where things get super-duper interesting! For real! The researchers then “constrained cognition” by asking subjects to memorize long strings of numbers. In this greatly distracted state, subjects became impartial. They thought their own transgressions were just as terrible as those of others. What???? I know! This mind-blowing result suggests that we are intuitively moral beings. Super smart guy Piercarlo Valdesolo said, “When we are given time to think about it, we construct arguments about why what we did wasn’t that bad.” He also said that this intuitively moral way comes from our instinct to be team players for a better outcome. On an individual level, we are more lenient with ourselves for much the same reason. Easier, faster, more beneficial outcome. In essence, we judge ourselves on a more forgiving scale than we do others and are instinctively moral beings.
There you have it. A little science behind hypocrisy. But let’s go here now: Does the act of hypocrisy lessen one’s intended message? For instance, I completely agree with Al Gore. We must reduce our carbon footprint. And one would be hard-pressed to find a reason why this is wrong. Al Gore has a private jet and the carbon footprint of a private jet is massive! BANG! HYPOCRISY! So do we discredit him and lose trust for what he says because he is being a hypocrite? Al Gore is right. We have to reduce our carbon footprint. There’s no argument there right? But he is a hypocrite! We all are. Jimmy shouldn’t smoke, it’s so bad. And he got in humongous trouble by his mom, who smokes a pack a day. But is she wrong? Is her message wrong? No. He shouldn’t smoke.
My adorable summary? Although Al Gore and Jimmy’s mom have been hypocrites, their very important messages are lost because we are putting the act of hypocrisy ahead of what’s best. We hold others at a higher standard because of our expectations of how they should act, be, are, whatever and hold ourselves at a more lenient level. We want the best of both worlds. We want a mutually beneficial outcome if we can have it that way, but if we can’t, we lessen our expectations of ourselves. We become hypocrites. You can see how a really amazing message is lost in the complication of hypocrisy.
My challenge to you (and me): Next time someone is being a hypocrite, let them be one without judgement.
Fuh-getta-bout-it! Instead, let’s truly focus on and pay attention to what it is they are saying. I wonder what impact that will have. Feel free to let me know. In fact, please do!
Thanks so much for reading my blog. J
As promised, here’s my update on my healthy lifestyle change, I have lost another 4 pounds and feel great. I pay attention to every single thing that I am eating making awesome changes to the things we buy when we are on our grocery trips. It’s way easier than I thought and we have more fun creating our healthy meals and snacks. I must admit though, I am a little worried about how this week will go. I had to have surgery this past Wednesday and am not allowed to bear any weight on my left foot. I am in a wheel chair for 6-8 weeks and have to keep my foot elevated for so much of the day. Tina-Maire, my awesome coach, has assured me that I will still continue to become a healthier person. Even if the last 4 weeks of this coaching lifestyle change thing will be spent in a wheelchair. Hello Sit and Be Fit!