I’ve been thinking a lot about hypocrisy lately. I’m not sure why, but it has certainly proved to be a blog-worthy topic. In fact, it’s going to be a two-parter.
First, however, the definition and origin of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary (online version) defines hypocrisy as “the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclinations … pretence, sham.” As for the etymology, it appears the word in Greek referred to “the acting of a part on the stage, feigning, pretence.”
Part I: Everyday Hypocrisy.
Who among us isn’t a hypocrite at some time? We are all guilty. Social events, workplace etiquette, even simple daily interactions with others demand that we act in a way or say something at variance with our true beliefs. A certain amount of this is necessary, as in the “little white lies” that smooth the bumps and jags of social interaction. But it doesn’t stop there.
“That outfit looks great on you!” “I’m really excited about the reorganization.” The thoughts behind the words may very well be something like “The outfit makes her look like a clown, but I know she spent a bundle on it and expects me to say it looks great, so I really have no choice,” and, “The reorganization is a major pain that won’t accomplish anything, but I want to look like a proactive team player who embraces change, so I’d better act excited.”
“Political correctness” equals hypocrisy. As soon as a chunk of humanity is designated as a special group, any mention of it invites hypocrisy. Truth! Who ever really thought “chairperson” was anything but an awkward and laughable word? “Handicap” is now a bad word; “disability” is preferable, but some now advocate for “diversability,” which I find offensive because it’s meaningless. Who doesn’t have diverse abilities? How does this word distinguish anything?
The thing that really bugs me about these semantic machinations is that they actually create barriers. If you don’t buy into something, but only say you do because you don’t feel you have a choice, resentment is inevitable. Not wanting to admit your hypocrisy, you start to feel isolated from the rest of your team or group, one who harbours a shameful secret. Wouldn’t the truly inclusive thing be to allow everyone to voice their true thoughts and discuss them? A real exchange of ideas would create long-term genuine change, rather than the childish expedient of drawing a line and declaring that everyone on this side is good and those on the other side are bad.
To bring about a change in thinking is better (but far more difficult) than changing the words applied to groups, situations or ideas. Simply changing a word is creating a milieu for hypocrisy.
Everyday hypocrisy. It’s indispensable in human society. Which is why I often prefer the society of plants and animals.
Part II next time: The Introvert’s Dilemma.