Thursday, April 25, 2013

The importance of hypocrisy

It is customary, I know, to pick a dictionary and define the word before you go ahead giving out your unique ‘wisdom’ about it. Since, however, I have this irresistible urge to find out whether I have a common-sense, let me go ahead based on the common-sense definition of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is understood to mean behavior that is at variance with the stated moral position of a person. We consider a person a hypocrite when his thoughts and actions do not match his words. In other words, a hypocrite is a person who does not ‘Walk the Talk’. A further exception to this definition is that we are not outraged by the hypocrisy of a person who talks like a sinner and behaves like a Saint. You accuse someone of Hypocrisy only when the reverse is true. 

All of us hate hypocrites and want people to shed their hypocrisy. I am afraid that this feeling that the world would be better off if people were not hypocrites is erroneous. We tend to tacitly assume that if people were not hypocrites they would end up ‘Walking the Talk’ i.e their behavior would be as moral as their words. What if they started “Talking the Walk’? 

I know you tend to feel that, even if they did speak out the immorality of their thoughts, you would be better off since you would know where you stood with them. If that were all there was to hypocrisy I would agree with you. The thing is there are a lot of things that get done because of hypocrisy which would never get done otherwise. 

Assume that most of the Companies in a sector actually care more for their bottom-lines than for customer service. As long as everyone keeps mouthing ‘Customer is King’ and does not vent their true feelings, they would not even know that the majority of the Companies feel this way – and the fear of losing market share to competitors keeps them paying lip service to customer care. What if this veil of hypocrisy is torn and someone speaks out about it? Your customer care service – if there is still one – would probably return an answer like this 

Do you think we can hire an army of people to run around at your beck and call? We are in this for profits and are not a Social service. Our people are busy and will get around to your complaint in five or so years time. 

I know everyone is very worked up with Khap Panchayats and their diktats about women. Whatever you may say about them, they are people who ‘Walk the Talk’ – their morals and actions are in sync. Assume that most of the political classes think and act like these people. Now, please tell me, would there even be a discussion on reservations for Women in Parliamentary seats? Would it be better for you to hear the political classes say, “As per our culture, the place of a woman is in the home. It would be against our culture to allocate seats for women in Parliament”? 

I mean, it is only the fact that they need to pay lip service, at least, to women’s rights that is still keeping that Bill alive. If, once, that veil of hypocrisy is torn and they all start talking with no hypocrisy - like the Khap Panchayats – bang goes any miniscule chance of getting that Bill through. (Ah! Do not talk of their being voted out and all that rot. That assumes that there is, at least, one party which honestly believes in Women’s rights or has continued to be hypocritical! In the latter case, it would be hypocrisy that won the day for you) 

Take this burning issue of corruption. Once again, it is hypocrisy that is enabling the legislation that, at least, can attempt to curb it. Assuming that most politicians take the sub-rosa earnings as their right and assuming that they feel free to talk of it, would you not hear them say things like, “You get your stock options and bonuses. We take it by allotting de-notified land to ourselves and in kick-backs. So what is the big deal?” If they started talking like that, do you really think that the RTI act could ever have been passed or would they have shot down the idea saying, “What nonsense! You guys keep your salary details confidential and you expect us to hand over the details of our sub-rosa earnings to the first-comer?” Need they even have thought of paying lip service to the Lokpal Bill? 

The great service that hypocrisy is doing to our social set-up is immeasurable. So, till the time you can ensure that the elimination of hypocrisy will only lead to people “Walking their (current) Talk”, long live hypocrisy.

Disclaimer : I make no claims about the validity of the assumptions in the examples above!

If you liked this you may like to check out the index of other posts of this genre or read a selection of similar posts.

30 comments:

  1. Very interesting observations. I am not sure if I can categorize what companies do as hypocrisy. I think that would be called "marketing" or diplomacy :). In another vein, if we really said what we felt including leaders, politicians, business associates, the world would come to a stop. I would say that tact and diplomacy has a place in the world more than hypocrisy. A divergent view can be put across if done with sensitivity and phrased well. There is no need to lie or be a hypocrite. What rankles is the arrogance with which we spurn a divergent view without understanding its context.
    Now I must put this rambling to an end :).

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    1. My point was slightly different, Rachna! I have found that different professions have their own standards of ethics within the people practicing the profession. These ethical standards may vary - sometimes widely - from the general ethical standards expected by Society. Thus, those people maintain a public posture which is variant from their beliefs. This need to maintain a public posture is, sometimes, the main reason why the standards of ethics get modified to closer alignment with Society's expectations or measures to get societal expectations enforced cannot be countered by them in public.

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  2. That's a wonderful analysis! quite unique and incisive.

    the definition of hypocrisy eludes me and i don't think i will ever understand the actual meaning of it. so for me, a person who behaves in a manner which i don't endorse is a hypocrite :)

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    1. Now that is an example of non-hypocritical talking :) Everyone feels that way but does not say so :)

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  3. What a valid point you made! I was thinking about to post something similar but you done it very well. :)

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    1. Subjects like this can stand more than one post, Anupam! Thanks for the appreciation.

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  4. This reminds me of a comment on television from a IIM Blore Prof turned politician....India is not the largest democracy but the largest hypocrisy.
    Measured in degrees most of us can be hypocrites, depending on the situation. Tough call.

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    1. Prof. turned politician from my Alma mater? There was one B.K.Chandrasekar who was a politician turned Prof, who taught us Indian Legal Systems while he was a MLC.

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  5. You excel at tongue in cheek. :)

    Dagny

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    1. That is high praise, indeed, Dagny! I am overwhelmed.

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  6. Well...hypocrisy is necessary, atleast in the name of diplomacy! Like you rightly observed, we couldn't do without it, for many reasons. It has been pushed into our brains( especially due to western culture) that we have to be frank always, otherwise we are hypocrites!

    "Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Thus, an alcoholic's advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of sobriety." ( Source: Wikipedia )

    In this light I consider those people who are brutally frank ( without consideration for the feelings of others ) as hypocrites of the highest order!!

    By the way, well written!

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    1. This is the first anonymous comment that is in response to the post :) Yes, there is a certain arrogance about certain types of honesty :)

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  7. Apparently it was the British hypocrisy that saved the father of our nation's life. If instead we had someone who walked the talk like Hitler, Gandhi and his Sathyagraha would have met a sad end in a gas chamber.

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    1. Rem acu tetigisti, TF! That was the sort of thing that exemplifies my point :)

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  8. Is it really possible to talk all that one thinks Suresh? Considering that every one of us is a hypocrite rt? Hmm...

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    1. I talk about hypocrisy in behavior and you talk of diplomacy in speech - these are times I get serious doubts about my ability to communicate :) And, anyway, I am supporting hypocrisy so what's your problem? :)

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  9. Asking a hypocrite' to shed his airs is like asking a leopard to change its spot. In a world having human heads exceeding 7 billions, it is far easier to adjust yourself.

    Talking of that 'sync' between the 'morals and actions', I haven't seen a better example than the Taliban. I'd rather be a hypocrite any day than a Taliban.

    Maybe I am.

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    1. Endorsement of my views, Uma - that hypocrisy may be far better than some forms of honesty? That feels great.

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  10. As usual, you have a unique perspective on this. I never thought of the consequences (or danger, really!) of people talking the walk!
    At the very least, I hope our politicians remain hypocrites forever!
    Great read :)

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    1. We owe a lot to the hypocrisy of the powers-that-be, Rickie :)

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  11. well said... I think that they key is to change our attitude so that our walk aligns with our talk... if it doesn't, then the key is to not talk about it!

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    1. At least to not feel free to 'Talk your Walk' :)

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  12. What a thought!And quite convincing too !

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    1. Hmm! Indu! I was convinced by this thought :)

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  13. I wonder if everyone is a hypocrite then are there any sane people around?
    Anyways, isn't it amazing that animals are incapable of the behavior? It is a sign of development, something we should be proud of.

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    1. These days they only consider hypocrisy sane :)

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  14. True, Suresh. That's called fine balance. I agree that if everyone will start 'walking the talk', the world will be too predictable have any spice. This post reminds me of your old post 'and the world was silent again'.

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    1. Only predictable? There would be no morality left :)

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  15. I suppose that's why the wise have said that everything serves a purpose. Even hypocrisy! Imagine living in a society where everyone started "talking the walk"! If not the chaos the sheer noise created by all the dumbwits would be enough to sink everything. So better to stick with hypocrisy :) You have convinced me!

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    1. At last! I become convincing in my dotage :)

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