Friday, May 13, 2011

On Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: Double standards; two-facedness; insincerity

This morning I went to a charity fund-raiser. A near-by restaurant was donating a portion of the day’s receipts to a local charity, and so I headed there when it opened for breakfast. The timing of the event was not good for me today , as I was in a hurry. My cleaning lady was due in the morning, and my house was --- well, in a condition I don’t want anyone to see; some picking up needed to be done, and the bed made. And on Fridays, I head over to mom’s house at noon, but on this particular day the caregiver asked me to come an hour early, as she had a noon doctor’s appointment. And Friday morning is always my banking day, to pick up funds to pay the caregivers. Friday mornings are always busy for me, and this one was more so.

And today was Friday, the 13th. Hmmmm.

As I approached the restaurant I saw a group of people crossing the street from the benefitting charity’s offices. I greeted them all, and we went in and sat down to eat together. I enjoyed their company, but the slow service for our group caused me to begin glancing at my watch. And so immediately after eating, I stood and bid a hasty “I’m sorry, but I have to eat and run this morning. I hope you all have a good day, and a very successful fund-raiser.” And then glancing in my wallet, I tossed down the only bill I had there on the table, a $20 bill.

One of the women said: “Don’t do that. I said I would buy today.” “Oh, thanks,” I replied. “Just call that a tip,” and I began to leave. “Wait,” she said. “You can’t leave that.” As I started walking I said “Oh, you know me. I’m a big tipper.” But I had to pause because she had more to say. “That’s too much; you can’t leave that much.” To end the conversation I said, “I once dated a waitress; like her I’m sure this one is probably not rich and can use the money.” And as I departed, I heard her tongue cluck: “Tsk.”

You know how it is when a conversation doesn’t end the way you would like it to? Later, you find it going over in your mind, and yourself saying: “This is what I should have said.” And that’s what happened to me, as I hurried home.

What I should have said to this woman, to make her think about what she was saying, is: “Do you know that you are being a hypocrite? You work for a charity, and yet you criticize someone for being charitable. Do you think people should be charitable (I know she does), but ONLY to your charity, or ones you think deserving? You need to go read the definition of hypocrisy.”

I wish I would have said that, although I know my friend would have been embarrassed in front of the others by my comment. But perhaps that’s what all we need sometimes, something to embarrass us, and make us stop and think, and really look at ourselves. Sometimes, our reflexive thinking needs to be challenged.

But of course this need for reflection doesn’t just apply to our thoughts on giving. On so many things we think we are correct, or that our opinion outweighs that of another. We hear it a lot today in the political debates: “You should cut government spending, but not in education --- where I work, or my kids go to school.” “You should raise taxes, but not my taxes --- tax those rich people.” “You should cut government spending, but not lay off any government employees --- where I and/or my friend work.”

How did so many of us get to this point in our thinking? We judge what is good for others, and then say that those same things are not good for us. This is the definition of hypocrisy.

Why can’t we see what hypocrites we are?

I read a good article in this month’s edition of First Things magazine. It discussed “critical thinking,” and how many of us believe that we evaluate things, properly, that way. As I began reading the article, I had to admit that it described me very well: show me the facts, and then I’ll make a decision. So, if you think I should not give to some charity, for example, show me data about the charity, how it wastes money, or how it has high executive salaries, or whatever facts you wish to show me, but don’t just say to me: “I don’t like that charity, and so you shouldn’t give to it.” The article went on to say that if we base our decisions totally on “critical thinking” we may be missing the non-factual things, or things not easily quantified, and making some truly good decisions not possible for us. For instance, perhaps a particular charity is not efficient in what it does, but is the work it does, the NEEDED work, better than none? Does love for your neighbor have to be perfect before you will do it or support it? The article gave me much to think about, in how I judge others and how I judge things --- and my hypocrisy.

Well then, if feelings alone aren’t adequate to evaluate our actions, nor are facts alone, just how do we judge what we should be doing? What are our benchmarks for evaluating how we are living, and in particular how we are living out our call to grow in holiness. How do we know?

I have written some thoughts on these things in the past, and have had many more of late. I think the answer to how we are called to live our lives has to do with the answer to another question: Why was I born? And the answer to that question is a complicated one, because each of us was born for a different, specific reason. For now though, I think I’ll just stop writing. It is a big enough thing for us to consider honestly a simpler question: Am I a hypocrite?

I fear we may not like the answer to that one, but truth is always a starting point for change.

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