The Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The Psychology of Hypocrisy

We all have, at some point in our lives either experienced an act of hypocrisy or committed one ourselves. Most often than not, we come across stories of influential leaders or motivators who preach to do certain acts and ask to refrain from some, but themselves indulge in those acts. Imagine, an elderly family member advising you to engage in healthy ways of managing your anger, but indulging in either beating up or breaking things when angry. Now, imagine a further scenario, where, when you question about this behavior, they answer that they didn’t mean to but it was this one time that they really felt out of control anger.

The elderly here are engaging in what we call ‘hypocrisy’. Hypocrisy is also when we accuse someone else of doing the same thing we are, but we think it is somehow “different” when we do it. It typically results from an excessive sense of self-righteousness, ego, and inability to be humble.

Roots of the Word

The common usage, as we know of the term ‘hypocrite’ today, which means someone who doesn’t follow the moral codes and grounds as preached by them, comes from the Greek word Hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or a ‘stage player’. “Hypocrisy” is defined as “the assumption of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclinations, especially in respect to religious life or beliefs; hence, in a general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham” by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Unfortunately, hypocrisy exists in almost every sphere of our lives, morphing its extent according to the place it is existing. From a normal dissonance or discrepancy between what our elders in the family tell us versus what they might actually do to what a leader’s manifesto is versus the results and the ways, they undertake to make ends meet. People commonly experience hypocrisy in our day-to-day life, where they often engage in activities like bribing or talking ill of someone behind their backs, despite believing that such acts are wrong and unkind when questioned.

Hypocrisy of Different Kinds

A research paper by Jesse Graham et al., titled, “When Values and Behavior Conflict: Moral Pluralism and Intrapersonal Moral Hypocrisy” aimed at defining different kinds of hypocrisy that exist. The authors reviewed the various ways moral hypocrisy has been defined and operationalized by social psychologists, concentrating on three general types: moral duplicity (claiming false moral values to others for pecuniary/ non-pecuniary advantages ), moral double standards (judging others versus judging oneself), and moral weakness (failing to live up to our moral grounds).

Reasons of Hypocrisy

The question then arises WHY? Or even if all acts where there exists a discrepancy between belief and action be considered hypocritical.
To answer the first question, WHY engage in hypocrisy? The answer mostly lies in the psycho-social intricacies of life. Humans, for the most part, don’t just rely on and aren’t constantly motivated by logical, rational norms. We are emotional beings and sometimes have impaired judgments. Moreover, some rules we make aren’t always watertight. Nonetheless, some moral grounds and obligations aren’t open to negotiation or individual interpretations. For instance, society views theft and abuse as evil and punishes those who engage in them, regardless of who engages in them or to what amount. Stealing 100 rupee is as wrong as stealing someone’s right to life. Both things are wrong, however, the extent of both differs a lot.

Another reason is social desirability, as humans, we crave validation, respect, and love from others, which we understand comes only when we act a certain way, thus, holding high moral and ethical grounds however, keeping up with such standards requires effort. The morally sound paths are strict and difficult to follow, a lot of times as it, require preservation, patience, and restraint from a lot of things. And as humans, we are more often prone to take easier routes or paths of least resistance.
Many times, the dissonance in our self-awareness is also the answer, we might believe that we are morally superior to others and it is the others who need to practice ethical discretion, while the reality can be far from the truth.

Effects of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy has severe results when it comes to social spheres of life. It can completely undermine our faith in individuals and communities if it surrounds us too much. Ask yourself: how many times do you truly believe in a political agenda? This also results in the undermining of authenticity; we lose genuine human connection that relies on authenticity and honesty. This further leads to our ability to form meaningful, satisfactory relationships and fosters room for doubt or skepticism often.

When hypocrisy exists in between one’s own thoughts and actions it can lead to discrepancies up to higher levels and can become frustrating and tiring. Imagine that despite your commitment to improving society, you work purely for financial gain for a dishonest pharmaceutical business. A situation as such can create frustration and chronic stress in one’s life. It resolves by either changing our standards for morality or our actions. By acknowledging our own mistakes and working towards aligning our actions with our stated beliefs, we can strive for greater authenticity and integrity in life.

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