Walking the Talk: The Psychology of Hypocrisy

A hypocrite is someone who claims agreement with a principle or idea, and in practice displays just the opposite.

Hypocrites are different from wishy-washy people. Wishy-washy people don’t know what their principles are; hypocrites do. Hypocrites give principles a bad name, because they weaken the belief that ideas matter by refusing to take their own ideas seriously.

All human beings have ideas, at least implicit ones. Anyone who feels anything at all

has ideas, since emotions are the product of ideas and opinions. Opinions do not have to be articulated or expressed to be present within someone’s mind.

Hypocrites sometimes are unsure about their ideas. They spout and preach about their ideas as a way to convince themselves. They know they aren’t upholding them in their daily lives, but they also realize that nobody else knows it. “If I say it, it’s just like I believe it.” Somehow, if other people associate you with certain ideas, then that makes you, in fact, associated with those ideas. In reality, the only way to be connected to a certain point-of-view is to live, breathe and practice it in daily life.

Ideas are supposed to serve a rational purpose. You wouldn’t know that from the ideas many people preach. Some people preach supernaturalism, an easy idea to preach since there’s no way of proving it. “This is God’s will.” How can you prove or disprove that? ‘To those who don’t have faith, no proof is possible; to those who do believe, none is necessary.’ How easy for those who preach such things! How hard for anyone who tries to live by it.

Others preach ideas that are contradictory. “Be selfless. Live life for others,” they’ll claim, out of one side of their mouths; out of the other side they’ll say, “Be self-responsible. Be self-disciplined.” Why should you be? If there’s no virtue in being self-interested, why should you engage in the hard work, focus and concentration required to be self-responsible? No answer is given, other than, “You should do this for society.” In other words, you should be self-responsible for the sake of others … not yourself.

This idea is irrational and insane right on the surface. Yet people seriously believe this idiocy. You hear it from just about every politician and preacher who comes down the pike. Most psychotherapists and New Age spiritualists lecture the same thing. Granted, it’s illogical, contradictory and cannot be done. Yet people continue to believe that those held up as examples of these contradictory ideas really practice what they preach. The impossibility of what they preach is exactly why they disappoint, every single time.

Hypocrisy is the symptom of intellectual dishonesty. An intellectually honest person, confronted with a gap between what he thinks/preaches and practices, will immediately hold a meeting with himself. “What’s wrong here? Is there some mistake in my idea? Or am I simply not walking the talk, even though I can?” Sadly, few are intellectually honest in this way. The more they sense or recognize a gap between what they say and what they do, the more they resist any challenge or criticism from anyone. To give in or allow criticism is to engage in the unthinkable: That one may be wrong. That one might even be a hypocrite. For examples of what I’m saying, check out just about any member of Congress, just about any occupant of the White House, and virtually every self-righteous fundamentalist preacher around. Check out the Middle East capitals of terror, as well.

Hypocrisy has given human beings a bad name. It has given ideology, ideas and philosophy horrible reputations. Sadly, more reasonable people retreat into the gray area of the non-committed. “Everyone who has a strong idea is a hypocrite. That must mean ideas are wrong. The reasonable thing is to stay in the middle.” No, that’s wrong. The safe thing is to stay in the middle. But survival requires more than safety. Man has need of ideas whether he retreats from them, or not. The caveman needed ideas on how to eat and stay warm; the modern man needs ideas on how to generate prosperity and preserve civilization rather than collapsing into famine, poverty and mindlessness.

The more reasonable people are afraid of ideas because they are afraid of the people who typically espouse them. But just as one idea can be true, another can be false. It’s not ideas we should denounce; it’s BAD ones.

Integrity is the willingness to practice what you think. Nothing is worth practicing unless it has first been worked out in theory, so it can be put into practice. Hypocrisy is no excuse to become cynical. Find the right ideas, and you’ll want to practice them every single day.