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Monday, June 22, 2009

Hypocracy

I bet you’re thinking, hey, he spelt hypocrisy wrong. Actually I just made up a new word. Like it?

By now you have probably heard about Nevada Senator John Ensign’s marital failures, and have probably already started to hear the overused but effective “H” word and its various derivatives thrown around by the pundits and opinionators. And I would hazard a guess that you’ve already arrived at your own opinion about him and whether or not you would vote for him. “He’s from Nevada, and I don’t live there, how could I vote for him?” you might ask. Well, as I understand, he is, or at least was, on the short list to oppose The Kenyan in 2012 if we’re still having free elections at that point, so if you’re anywhere in the US or territories, you might have actually gotten a chance to vote for or against him, at least in a primary.

But before we get too far into this, let’s pay a visit to the ghost of Noah Webster. Hypocrite: 1: a person who puts on a false impression of virtue or religion. 2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.

Pretty cut and dried, no? Well, not so fast, sez Bruck. The other side of the coin is good old fashioned human weakness. Let’s put it this way - any dog owners out there? (Note, this illustration categorically does not apply to cat owners.) Your dog thinks the world of you. He or she worships the ground you walk on. Are you nearly as good a person as your dog thinks you are? Notwithstanding your dog’s inability to comprehend your less tangible shortcomings, and likewise his or her relatively low self esteem (we once had to give back a dog who had excessively high self esteem but that’s another story), I’m guessing the answer is no. But I’m also guessing that this doesn’t compel you to embroider a scarlet H on your sweater either.

Those of us whose value systems include some non-zero level of moral/ethical standards always find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, we (hopefully) agree that it’s good to have such standards. If you think about, it’s pretty easy to see that civilized society depends on, and would quickly disintegrate without, at least a certain level of them. Taking this a step further, regardless of our ability to live up to them, I’m going to postulate that for genuine, objective moral and ethical standards, the higher the better for all concerned. But, and here’s the rub, the higher they are, the more difficult they are to live up to, and the more likely we are to fail to meet them. In some corners, and I believe this is a cowardly, despicable position to take, the answer is to simply disclaim any standards, or attempt to modify them after the fact to fit one’s behavior, having been caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar as it were. That way, the offender can be justified in his or her own mind, and avoid the dreaded “H” word. Honest men and women won’t do this, of course, but what is the answer?

Over the past few decades, the Christian world, both Catholic and Protestant in its various expressions, has been rocked with numerous moral scandals among its leadership, some truly revolting, and all of them disappointing. And I can tell you from the insider’s perspective, it’s not just the leadership who commit moral failures. You’re welcome to investigate other religions that claim objective moral guidance, and I think you’ll find much of the same thing. So, what does that make us? A bunch of hypocrites, as our opponents self-righteously claim? I’m going to invoke the “M” word at this point: Maybe. Or, the statistician’s/WOC nurse’s (look it up) favorite answer: it Depends.

How can you say that, Bruck? Isn’t it obvious? They’re saying one thing and doing another! Well, this is the quandary – we have high standards, but we can’t always live up to them, and when we don’t, we find ourselves on the defensive against those with low or no standards. Recognizing the fact that both can be present in a situation, I think that much of what is labeled as hypocrisy these days is just simply human weakness and should be dealt with as such. IMHO, true hypocrisy is actually pretty rare.

So, what makes a hypocrite? I believe it’s a matter of perspective. I heard on the radio that Sen. Ensign is a born-again Christian. My first two thoughts: (1) okay, a weak one, but certainly not the first or hundredth fallen Christian I’ve heard of, and (2) that’s kind of the point of Christianity, to restore one’s relationship with God, having been separated from Him by sin. Next I heard that he was a Promise Keeper. Okay, so he broke his marriage vows and his PK oath. Next I heard that he was one of Slick Willie’s loudest condemners following his intern indiscretions. Hmmm. Now we’re not quite in H-land, but we’re definitely on contact with the tower. And another data point. Apparently Sen. Ensign made his public confession under pressure of extortion from the husband of his erstwhile tango partner. Then I hear that it’s not the first time he drew water from the wrong well. Notwithstanding the fact that our information on the subject is filtered through the unfriendly media, now I feel like I need to take a shower.

The answer: admit your human weakness, seek forgiveness of those affected by it, deal with the consequences, and endeavour to constrain yourself against future opportunities. In Ensign’s case, as with the 42nd president, public contrition occurred only after an extortionist or a stained dress appeared on the scene, so it’s a little tough to take it seriously.

I’m just telling you how I feel; fortunately, like you, I’ve been relieved of the responsibility to pass moral judgment. So if Ensign is a hypocrite, you won't hear it from me. But I do vote. What do I base my vote on? Character, and by now I think I’m have a pretty good handle on that. A person with strong character can possibly fail as a leader, but there is no such thing as a good leader with weak character.

Bottom line: Would I vote for Ensign, given the opportunity? Well, it depends who he’s running against, but in general I would vote for a person who attempts to meet high standards and fails over a person who lives by no standards and succeeds.

1 Comments:

  • At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Please comment on the Mark Sanford Situation. Your thoughts are insightful.

     

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