30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living Through Critical Thinking: Strive to Be a Person of Integrity: Beware of Your Own Hypocrisy
People are hypocritical in at least three ways. First, they tend to have higher standards for those with whom they disagree than they have for themselves or their friends. Second, they often fail to live in accordance with their professed beliefs. Third, they often fail to see contradictions in the behavior of people with whom they identify (such as people of high status).
Hypocrisy, then, is a state of mind unconcerned with honesty. It is often marked by unconscious contradictions and inconsistencies. Because the mind is naturally egocentric, it is naturally hypocritical. Yet at the same time, it can skillfully rationalize whatever it thinks and does. In other words, the human mind naturally wants to see itself in a positive light. The appearance of integrity is important to the egocentric mind. This is why, as humans, we actively hide our hypocrisy from ourselves and from others (through self-deception and rationalization). For example, though we are often selfish, we almost never see ourselves in this light. But we readily see selfishness in others. In other words, it is okay for me to be selfish, but not for you to be selfish. Although we expect others to adhere to much more rigid standards than the standards we impose on ourselves, we see ourselves as fair. For instance, the bookkeeper who steals money from her company may deceive herself into believing the company “owes” her that money, because the company has never paid her what she is worth, or, she might reason that the business is highly lucrative so should pay her more, and so on. All are rationalizations that enable her to hide from the truth. Though we profess certain beliefs, we often fail to behave in accordance with those beliefs.
Only to the extent that our beliefs and actions are consistent, only when we say what we mean and mean what we say, do we have intellectual integrity.
- “We are companions in hypocrisy.”
- —William Dean Howells
When you resolve to live a life of integrity, you routinely examine your own inconsistencies and face them truthfully, without excuses. You want to know the truth about yourself. You want to know the truth in others. By facing your own hypocrisy, you begin to grow beyond it (while recognizing that you can never get full command of your hypocrisy because you can never get full command of your egocentricity). When you recognize it in others (especially those of status), they are less able to manipulate you.
Be on the lookout for...
...contradictions or hypocrisy in your behavior and the behavior of others today. Catch yourself using double standards. Notice when others do. Because hypocrisy is a natural human tendency, theoretically this should be easy. Look closely at what people say they believe. Compare this with what their behavior implies. Dig out inconsistencies in your thinking and behavior. Notice when you profess a belief, and then act in contradiction to that belief. Notice how you justify or rationalize inconsistencies in your behavior. Figure out the consequences of your hypocrisy. Does it enable you to get what you want without having to face the truth about yourself? Figure out the consequences of others’ hypocrisies. However, if you don’t see hypocrisy in yourself, look again and again and again.