How often does a person have to fail to adhere to his professed goals or morals in order to be a hypocrite? Once, twice, tens times, more? Over what period of time do these lapses need to take place in order to qualify as hypocrisy? Does the standard vary based on a person’s position in an organization or a discipline: e.g. a layperson versus a clergyman or a laborer versus a CEO?
Over the last week in several unrelated situations, people complained to me about individuals who professed to be religious but did not live up to the values they espoused. The ensuing discussions revealed that in their view it is better to be consistent than to strive for a higher level if a person cannot meet such a standard. The implication was that authenticity excludes those who fall short of their mark because they are acting in a role rather than being genuine.
The problem with this attitude is that it discourages people from attempting to improve their lot: be it professionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. We grow and develop in different ways and there is nothing disingenuous in failing to reach the goals we set for ourselves. An essential aspect of personal development is called, “fake it to make,” recognizing that when a person acts as if the change has already been made it will be easier to accomplish.
Whether the goal is professional success or religious observance, the hypocrite is the person who states an objective but does nothing to reach it. As long as a person is striving, effectively or not, a judgment of failure, which is what calling someone a hypocrite means, is not merited.
Also, by so labeling someone, we dis-incentivize ourselves by setting the bar at immediately actualized change rather than incremental development. Is it worth decreasing our own chances for success by diminishing that of others?
Question – What is your standard for deciding someone is a hypocrite?
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