When we think of the word “hypocrite”, our minds automatically go negative. I would like to challenge that.
I am being a hypocrite as I write this because I have definitely called folks hypocrites in a negative light in the past. The point of this article is not that people should have no values and show no principle; my point is that the possibility of hypocrisy should not prevent us from speaking out or evolving in different ways.
The first time I began to think about hypocrisy in a more nuanced manner was regarding the Orthodox Jewish Community. I found myself calling various individuals in this community hypocrites; some of this had to do with treatment I had experienced regarding gender, my status as a non-Orthodox Jew and other disagreements I saw as value-based. Orthodox Jews are extremely visible in their values and therefore it is easier to see hypocrisy. We see their values in their following of Halakha (Jewish law) and often in the way individuals dress. This led me to a realization that those who put their beliefs and values out there in a very public way will always be hypocrites.
We live in a complicated world. Chances are you are pulled several different directions each and every day. And chances are every day you do not react the same way. Sometimes I call out the racist comment I overhear, other times I might not. Should I always say something? Probably, but the fact that I might not every single time does not automatically discredit when I do speak up.
When we get so caught up in the consistencies of our actions, it can be debilitating. We are not perfect; we are evolving creatures. This idea that we are 100% authentic everyday is ludicrous. I do not think the exact same way today as I did a week ago, maybe even an hour ago.
None of this is to say we are not accountable for our actions and should not act on principle. Hell, I will continue to get mad when I see dudes call themselves feminists and then exert extremely sexist behavior. The hypocrisy of this is infuriating.
It is inevitable though that we will be hypocrites in our life.
Human characteristics that I admire most are courage and the willingness to place oneself in an uncomfortable situation. This means individuals who share their opinions in public spaces and doing so is a risk. People are going to remember a bold statement; they are going to remember when someone pushes back. And eventually, that person expressing their opinion is probably going to do something that slightly disagrees or is perceived as being inconsistent with the sentiment that was just put forward.
In regards to feminism, when an exact definition of feminism is explained as THE definition, it can lead to a bit of policing. You are a feminist if you do “x” but NOT if you do “y.” Let’s not do that. If someone is bashing women for having sex, yeah I would argue that this is anti-feminist but if a woman is out at a bar and she moves her hips to a song that is less than respectful to women, there should not be a feminist secret camera watching this individual and monitoring their behavior for hypocrisy. And when I say camera, I mean that figuratively. Guilt can eat inside us if we feel that we are not perfectly aligning with our political beliefs. When we live in a world that is so incredibly unjust, we have to participate in it at times. I call myself anti-capitalist but I still need to make money and pay rent. There is a balance between living out our beliefs and also recognizing that our actions are at times going to be inconsistent with those beliefs.
My advice. Be principled but also know that you will be a hypocrite because that is what living looks like, especially when you are willing to take a risk in a public manner and be a leader.
Written by Sarah Brammer-Shlay