Hypocrisy. I’ve already mentioned the online duplicity represented by the way the biggest social media site has us referring to people as friends who we barely know, or don’t even know at all.
But there’s another context within which we do have a choice as to how we conduct ourselves: the actual real day-to-day relationships that we have in our lives right now. No, it’s not accurate to denote everyone we know online as a friend, but it’s even more duplicitous to say ‘I love you’ when we have no intention of translating that spoken sentiment into any actual acts of love. Even if love were just a feeling, we’re being a hypocrite when we claim to have loving feelings toward others but don’t feel the need to show any evidence of that love.
Among countless examples we could come up with, here are three: when parents tell their kids ‘I love you’, but then don’t show up at their kids’ events or engage in meaningful conversation with them; when spouses say ‘I love you’ to each other, but then put nothing into the relationship; and when so-called friends say ‘I love you’ to each other, but then fail to stay connected in any meaningful way.
Looking back, too many times, when I’ve been confronted about my hypocrisy in this area, I didn’t respond too well. In Leadership and Self-Deception, a marvelously eye-opening book by the Arbinger Institute, we are told that our negative reactions to our inconsistencies being exposed – exemplified by our failure to love – can often be described as being “in the box” toward others. [The book explains the phenomenon in a way that is very creative, engaging and easy to follow. I hope you buy a copy for yourself and then let your life inspire others to buy it!]
How often, when (and a big IF) your areas of hypocrisy are ever directly brought to light, does it result in an angry, defensive reaction on your part? Too often? We hate exposure so much that we sometimes go into an almost instant overdrive to create and articulate a very convincing justification for the various ways we short others we’re in relationship with. And, much to our shame, our justification(s) usually involve blaming the other person as a way of convincing ourselves that the other person deserves the poor treatment. ‘They asked for it,’ we say to ourselves.
Hence, we tell ourselves things like…
My hypocrisy as a parent is justified because my child is so disrespectful. Besides, they’ve crammed their schedule so full, it’s impossible to keep up with. I can barely stay on top of my own affairs. So I’m not really a hypocrite.
My hypocrisy as a spouse is morally acceptable because my partner has violated my trust so much, and/or treated me so badly in the past, that I am now justified in withholding relationship from them. So I’m not really a hypocrite.
My hypocrisy as a friend is justified because the other person is so needy or distant [or a million other excuses…]. So I’m not really a hypocrite.
In general terms, this language of justification goes something like this…
My style of relating (or not relating) with the other person is completely justified. Even if it appears that I’m not behaving in an “okay” way toward the other person, it really is okay because this is all the other person’s fault. They started it. I’m not really being a hypocrite if I’m morally on higher ground than the other person. And in this case, I am definitely better than them. They are the bad guy. I am the good guy. The bad guy always deserves to be treated badly. It’s always justified. If anyone ever tries to nail me on this, I’ll get angry at them and/or avoid this topic from ever coming up again. I simply won’t be told that I’m wrong on this.
We do this (turn others into an object) when we believe this is either the only way or the best way to protect ourselves from experiencing pain again.
Yes, the nonsense I’m describing above is about pain avoidance. We generally don’t slip into this hypocritical self-deception mode unless we’re intent upon avoiding some form of past unpleasantness.