Thoughts on Hypocrisy

A few days ago Rod Dreher noted something from a recent press interview of Jenna Bush, the president's daughter. It seems that in 2006 Jenna and her boyfriend (now fiance) Henry went on a camping trip. Upon being told of the plans, the president asked his daughter, "Do you have two tents?"

Rod's post quickly drew comments from people saying the president, who had his share of youthful indiscretions, is a hypocrite for saying such a thing. To me, this attitude is very strange. In our culture hypocrisy seems to have become the only unforgivable sin. Yet at the same time, it is something we are all guilty of in one way or the other. I wrote the following a few weeks ago in reaction the the arrest of Senator Larry Craig:

It is entirely possible to simultaneously a) believe that a certain behavior is immoral, and b) be unable to resist one's own urges to engage in that same behavior. As much as we struggle to do good, every single day we still do things we know to be wrong. To be human is to be a hypocrite. The fact that we are often unable to live up to the standard does not mean that no standard exists. MORE

I think when people make charges of hypocrisy, often what they are really saying is "I don't like that rule." But in fact, the existence of a moral principle and the ability of individuals to follow that principle are entirely different subjects. Neither effects the other.

For example, I know that I should not eat an entire quart of Blue Bell Cookies & Cream ice cream at one time. It is not good for my health, it is wasteful of my family's money, and it sets a bad example for others. I should not do it. It's wrong. Yet I have, on many occasions, done this thing that I know to be wrong. I'm pretty sure I will do it again at some point. Am I a hypocrite about ice cream? Sounds like it. But that does not change the fact that too much ice cream is bad for me. I could simply deny the negative effects of ice cream and eat a quart of it every day. Then I would not be a hypocrite. I would, however, pay a heavy price in other ways.

Now, back to the Bush family situation. Like many of us Baby Boomers, George W. Bush did dangerous, unwise, and sometimes illegal things in his youth. What does this have to do with the way we bring up our own children?

One approach is to presume that we as parents have no moral authority to tell our own offspring not to do these things, because we did them ourselves. The result is kids with no restraint who quite naturally go wild. If they don't come to some kind of harm, they will go on to produce another generation that is even worse. This isn't good, but at least you, the parent, won't be a hypocrite. Congratulations. I'm sure your hypocrisy-free conscience will help you feel better when you visit your kids in prison, or put flowers on their graves.

The other approach is to recognize, with the benefit of maturity, the harm that we caused ourselves and others when we were young, and then help our kids avoid the same mistakes. Is it hypocrisy? Yes. Is it the best thing for our children? Yes.

This seems to be what Bush was telling his daughter: sharing a tent with a young man to whom you are not yet fully committed in marriage can be harmful in a variety of ways. By this time she was probably old enough to make her own decisions, but there is nothing wrong with a father offering advice to his daughter - at any age.

Is George W. Bush 100% successful as a parent? Apparently not, if some of the stories about his daughters are true. On the other hand, I don't know any parents who are perfect. I'm sure not. We all just do the best we can, regardless of what may be in our past. The alternative is to set our kids adrift without a moral compass. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.


Dymphna said...

I did some stupid things as a girl. Would I, if I had a daughter just roll over and let her do the same thing? No, of course not. That's called being a parent.

Pauli said...

To the sixties generation, esp. the hippies, hypocrisy is the worst sin, perhaps the only sin. This is because it's seen as not being "true to yourself", and to a hippy, you are the only person you answer to; that's why it's the only sin.

People used to intuitively realize why this attitude is so destructive, hence the maxim was coined that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." John Edwards recently said he wouldn't "impose" his own moral judgements on his (hypothetical) second grade child regarding the issue of so-called homosexual marriage.

I'll take hypocrisy over this kind of insanity any day. There's even an Ad Council ad urging hypocrisy over limp-wristedness in telling your kids to pass on smoking weed even if you used to hit it.

Entropy said...

Good thoughts here. Thanks.

Kate said...

I wrote a similar post a few months back, while people here in Louisiana were smirking over the revelation that Republican David Vitter had apparently had liasons with prostitutes several years ago. The newspaper was inundated with letters ranting about Vitter's 'hypocrisy'.

Here's a snippet of what I wrote then:

"We know we are weak - that is why we need a Saviour. It seems to me that we have two choices, and those two choices only. We challenge our weakness by clinging to the Lord who saves, or we cater to our weakness by excusing it and wallowing in it.

"...My husband's comment on all this was to say that "any man who strives to be someone worthy of respect must accept that he will at some time be a hypocrite." That is to say that when we set our sights high, we will inevitably fall short. But we can't rise at all if we do not take that risk.

"The truth is, redemption is a journey that takes a lifetime...and sometimes more."

Here's the post: