“‘He’s a hypocrite, and I hate hypocrites!’” Z said imitating a woman complaining about someone. The tone Z used to imitate the speaker informed A that Z had no respect her complaint. “Wait a second, so you’re philosophically pure? Let me guess, this hypocrite is someone who won’t let you do something. I’m also going to guess that the two of you know that you’re going to do it anyway, because you’re a grown woman who can do whatever she wants, but you know you’re going to feel guilty about it. Calling them a hypocrite is your super-secret way of breaking them down, so you transfer to him whatever guilt you might feel for doing it anyway.”
“You said all that to her?” A asked.
“Of course not,” Z said, “but I wanted to, and she seemed like the type of person who needed to hear it.”
“I no longer ask who is hypocritical,” A said. “I now ask who is not? Seriously, it’s such a malleable charge that we’re all vulnerable to it. The idea that anyone practices what they preach 100% of the time is just silly. Some might be more hypocritical than others, of course, but we’re all vulnerable to the charge. Anytime I hear someone say something like, ‘I hate hypocrites!’ My first thought is, I know I could nail you on something, and I know you could nail me. It’s such a situational charge that I just don’t take it serious anymore.”
“If we had a third party sitting here,” Z said. “You couldn’t, ‘No, you’re a hypocrite’ me. That would be childish, and you’d know it, so I’d win. By accusing you of being a hypocrite first, I would insulate myself from the charge.”
“How many of us evaluate the person making the charge?” A asked. “How many of us analyze their motivations? We’re more apt to get behind the indignant and righteous raised fist of the speaker.”
“We might call this psychological projection, and we might also wonder if the projector suffers from some faulty wiring that could lead to a fire if we don’t inspect for narcissism?”
“Narcissism is another charge I hear bandied about.”
“How do we lose contact with external realities?” Z said. “Narcissism lines most low-level impairments, and they can be resolved with some acknowledgement of narcissism.”
“Narcissism might be as situational and malleable a charge as hypocrisy,” A said.
“It could be,” Z agreed, “but wouldn’t that put us in some kind of obscene circle.”
“With everyone labeling the person to their left a synonym of imposter?”
“The imposter synonyms,” Z said, “or the imposter syndrome?”
“The imposter syndrome is more of an internal psychological concept we use to explain those who feel guilty for achieving something,” A said. “Who am I to achieve this level of success? Everyone is going to eventually find out that I’m a fraud. A syndrome tends to be more internal, but when we project it outward to others, we might want to call it a phenomenon. The imposter phenomenon.”
“Whatever the name is,” Z said. “When we project it outwards, we’re saying everyone to the left of us is a fraud, an imposter, a hypocrite, everyone except me.”
“And that comes equipped with its own level of insecurity,” A said. “I might not be much, but at least I’m not an imposter, or a fraud, like you. Then, we have those who get behind us when we make these charges of hypocrisy or narcissism, and we form groups against the other. Divided we stand. Divided we fall.”
“But we prefer to fall strong,” Z said, “we fall stronger than we would be if we stood alone. Charges like hypocrisy can unify. Let’s say you didn’t get a promotion because another was more qualified. We could sit around and be sad, or we could get righteously indignant, and what better way to get angry than to have a group get behind us and all the charges we level.”
“And they don’t have to be true.”
“They have to be so true to us that we believe it though,” Z said. “That’s essential. We can give excuses, but most of us don’t believe our own excuses. We need something we know to be true, in our hearts, even if it isn’t. Why did Gene hire Joel over me, because Gene is a fraud, hypocrite, imposter! “Sing it sister!” the group shouts, and that vindication and validation gives us a sinister smile.
“I’ve seen it too,” Z continued, “They weave some powerful yarns that they believe. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be so convincing. The yarn they weave is so beautiful that I would love to believe it too. I don’t want to think anything is my fault. I don’t want to think I didn’t receive that promotion because I didn’t have a quality resume, or I didn’t perform well in the interview. I don’t care who you are, rejection hurts, and it’s a painful reminder that I have to improve. Rather than go through all that work, I would much rather believe that there is something wrong with them. There was something wrong with my parents that led me to be the person I am. There’s something wrong with all those girls who rejected my advances. Wouldn’t we all love to live in a world where none of our faults were our fault?”
“I don’t know if it’s because our boss has bosses, and an employee handbook to back him up, but these accusations are less effective in the work place,” A said. “They’re much more effective in the home though. I’m not entirely sure what drives it, but parents seem to care when their kids comment on their performance.”
“It’s the parent trap,” Z said. “Some parents feel handcuffed by it. I don’t know if it’s repetitive messaging from the movies or what have you, but some people parent their child with a fear that they might one day call them a hypocrite. Who cares, I say. I know I’m different, but I don’t care if my kid calls me a name. I actually relish it when my kid floats his trial balloons. “I hate you,” he says. I laugh, because I know he’s feeling me out and seeing what works best for him. I know I’m different, but I cannot view it as a serious condemnation. Some parents do, they stop the music and say things like, ‘Don’t say you hate me Johnny that hurts mommy’s feelings.’ Screw your feelings, Eloise. Your job is to raise a child into a decent adult.”
“If it’s in the child’s best interest to follow your rules,” A added. “Your conviction should be solid.”
“Exactly,” Z said. “You mean to tell me that because I abused alcohol in my youth that I can’t tell my kid not to, because he might hear some stories about my years of drunken debauchery one day and call me a hypocrite. I have no problem with that. I’ll sleep with the same grin I do every night. My experience with alcohol abuse leads me to believe it’s destructive. They say alcohol abuse is genetic, others argue that it has more to do with the climate we were raised in. I don’t know the answer to that, but I want my child to end that legacy. Why wouldn’t I do everything I can to end it, regardless the short-term taints it might have on my presentation? Alcohol abuse is not a divisive issue as most people aren’t against it, but when these parents who abused alcohol in their younger years, debate whether to tell their children not to do the same, do they think their integrity is on the line? If it is, what’s more important, your integrity or your child’s health?
“Are you going to let your kid talk back to you, because you talked back to your parents?” Z continued. “Ok, she’ll grow up with no respect for authority. You’re going to excuse your child for misbehavior in school, because you misbehaved in school. All because you fear them calling you a hypocrite? As I said, the arrows eventually arrow back to narcissism, and in this case, it’s narcissist to try to achieve some sort of philosophical purity at the expense of your child’s mental health and well-being.”
“If you need a device, and some parents do,” A added, “tell them what alcohol abuse did to you. Tell them the stories of what happened to you, how many stupid things you said and did while loaded. Tell them about how many days of your life you missed due to hangovers. Tell them how at one point, you couldn’t picture hanging out with friends without alcohol.”
“Don’t worry about being a hypocrite, a fraud, or an imposter,” Z added, “because you’re going to be all of the above when they want something.”
“Time heals all wounds,” A said. “I hate to use a cliché here, but it’s really true. There will be times when you are all of the above. You’re flawed and I’m flawed, and we will make mistakes. If we spend more time with them, it will more than make up for any mistakes we make along the way.”
“And don’t obsess over those mistakes,” Z added. “Don’t worry about being a philosophically pure parent, a cool parent, or their friend. Just be a parent to them.”