Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Deny, deny, deny

We are all hypocrites.

And no, I don't just mean those of us that claim to be pissed off about the BP Gulf oil spill while idling their SUV's in line at Starbucks. I mean all of us, and that includes me.

The simple fact is that no matter no hard we try, there is just no way that we can ever avoid hypocrisy. It could be described as a fundamental law of human nature.

Everyone is hypocritical. And not just some of the time. We are all hypocritical all of the time.

How could it be otherwise? No one ever does, no one ever can do exactly what they say they will.

Why? Because doing exactly what we say one will do is impossible. Something, sometime, somewhere always interferes with our intentions. The result is always different than the intent.

I said always, and I mean it.

What's more, we all know this to be true from daily experience and yet still we deny it daily. We all know that in every endeavor we've ever undertaken, no matter how carefully we planned, the end result was always different than the expected outcome. We always fail.

Sometimes this failure--this discrepancy between what should have been and what is--is simply too small to notice. Furthermore, it wouldn't matter if we noticed the difference or not. That's because even if it is just a matter of a fraction of a degree or a millionth of a nanosecond or a trillionth of a centimeter, all results, all end products are always different from the expectation that brought them into being.

We proceed through life as if avoiding hypocrisy was our most fervent intention. We expect to do what we say, and we expect others to live up to the ideals we think we hold dear. To be free from all hypocrisy is one of our most basic moral intentions, yet in this intention we fail, and not just often but always. In complete denial, we try again and again, daily, even hourly, as if our memory was continually being wiped, as if our most recent failure was recalled as a complete success. Deny, deny deny.

That's not so surprising, really. Denial is what we humans do.

We change our history, we change our art and we change our literature and our monuments, all to suit our denials of hypocrisy. Historians lie about their subjects--sacred or profane; artists lie about their intentions--lofty or debased; and everyone lies about sex--good and bad.

People lie without knowing or intending to. We mangle eyewitness accounts. We mis-remember our childhoods, forget people's names and make mental mistakes all the time.

Sometimes these mistakes are fatal. Sometimes the patient dies. Sometimes the plane crashes. But these kinds of things happen only once in a billion-billion times.

Or do they?

Certainly it is fair to say that the fatal mistakes are rare enough, but absent self-awareness, most of us are unlikely to emerge from the fog of denial about the hypocrisy that is inevitably present in even our most mundane actions. The problem with this arises when we punish ourselves for even--or especially--these continued transgressions. We think of ourselves as failures, weak-willed or incapable of adequate planning.

In the face of failure--both great and small--if we have any moral capacity, we tell ourselves--and others--that we will do better next time. However, even though we know that to be true, unless we change the way we think about hypocrisy, we are simply setting ourselves up for failure once again.

It's a vicious cycle, obviously--this process of denial and punishment--even if it's not always or immediately fatal. At best, wrapping ourselves in lies means that we are constantly engaging in mental self-flagellation. At worst, constant denial of our hypocritical nature is a slow form of moral self-destruction--a death by a thousand tiny cuts.

Now, self-flagellation wouldn't be so bad if the pain led us to an awareness that hypocrisy is not not so deserving of punishment as we might think. Sadly, self-destruction, on the other hand, is what actually happens to most of us.

So, what's the point?

Are we simply doomed to an endless vicious cycle? Well, perhaps. Many people are. But it needn't be that way. It's a matter of attitude and perception. If we could ever manage to convince ourselves that it's ok to be a hypocrite (most of the time, anyway), we might not be so hard on ourselves. Those cuts will heal.

1 comment:

bc said...

I wish you had interspersed all those words with samples & examples; it might help me understand what your point(s) really is/are. Ah, well--perhaps next week he will write again something pesonal...