The term hypocrisy is a moodkiller, yet we love to use it and accuse people of being hypocrites. The question is what that brings us. When we say someone is a hypocrite, we mean that they are not consistent in their behaviour, or that there is no consistency between their actions and their thoughts.
People who recycle, but use the car, are hypocrites. People who never drive a car but fly to a faraway holiday destination are hypocrites. People who avoid flying airplanes for ecological reasons but who eat meat, are hypocrites. People who don’t eat meat but who wear leather shoes, are hypocrites. Etcetera.
The point I’m trying to make is that no one is consistent all across the board, and that everyone is at times (or often) a hypocrite in this sense of the word. Hypocrisy is not just a pretty meaningless term, it is also a damaging one.
The words hypocrite or hypocrisy are extremely charged and imply a strong value judgment. There are probably only few people who will start reflecting deeply when they’re being accused of hypocrisy. Most will feel attacked.
I know: at some or other intellectual-philosophical level, consistency sounds desirable and our demand for it sounds logical. But this very demand for consistency often gives people an excuse to do nothing. “Perfect is the enemy of good” wrote the French philosopher Voltaire. Personally, I chose people who act inconsistently good rather than consistently bad. I applaud people who are trying, who take little steps, and who, with an open mind and being honest towards themselves, look at what they can and cannot yet do.
A case in point, these days, is the British actor Ricky Gervais, who is giving hunters a lot of flack and is asking us not to hurt animals, while he is not a vegan. As a vegan, one could accuse him of being a hypocrite, and maybe one would be right. There’s definitely a lack of consistency there. But looking at Gervais’ thoughts and behaviour on Facebook, I can definitely see the beginning of something. A beginning that can only grow when we encourage it, and that will be suffocated rather than helped when we ridicule it or call it hypocritical.*
The main consequence of calling people hypocrites might be that people do nothing because they don’t want to be called that. What if Ricky stopped biting hunters asses because he would get tired of being called a hypocrite? Jonathan Safran Foer puts it this way:
“We have to get away from the expectation of perfection because it really intimidates people who would otherwise make an effort. People use the fear of hypocrisy to justify total inaction. I wish I weren’t as hypocritical as I am but I think that’s just part of what it means to be a person.”
Let’s not give people an excuse to do nothing by calling them hypocrites. And let’s have a little more faith in humans. Because when positive evolution happens in the world, it starts with small steps taken by all those inconsistent but well-intentioned people.
* And here I’m not even talking about the arrogance of people calling Gervais a hypocrite because he’s not vegan, as if vegan is the be-all and end-all of everything. I wonder when the last time was that these critics spread a pro-animal message to millions of people around the world?