Sunday, October 03, 2004

Hypocrisy

People like to accuse each other of hypocrisy, but I find that few bother to ask themselves what they mean by the word. The main point that needs to be made is that a hypocrite cannot be defined as a person who espouses high moral standards but fails to live up to them. For on that definition, all who espouse high moral standards would be hypocrites. Since to fall short is human, this definition (‘daffynition’) implies that the only way to avoid hypocrisy is to renounce high moral standards, a course of action seemingly pursued by many nowadays. No one can call you a hypocrite if you have no standards, or standards that are easily satisfied.

No, a hypocrite is not one who espouses high standards and falls short of them: your humble correspondent espouses high standards, falls short of them on a daily basis, but is no hypocrite. A hypocrite is one who espouses high moral standards, but makes little or no attempt to live in accordance with them. He is one who pays ‘lip service’ to high ideals, by ‘talking the talk,’ but without ‘walking the walk.’ Someone who talks the talk, walks the walk, but stumbles a lot cannot be justly accused of hypocrisy. That’s my main point.

A second point is that there is something worse that hypocrisy, namely, having no ideals. One who pays ‘lip service’ to ideals is at least recognizing their legitimacy, their oughtness-to-be-realized. Perhaps we need four categories. Saints espouse high ideals and never fail to live in accordance with them. Strivers espouse high ideals, make an honest effort to live up to them, but are subject to lapses. Hypocrites espouse high ideals, but make little or no attempt to live up to them. Scamps, being bereft of moral sense, do not even recognize high ideals.