I imagine most people reading this column know the definition of the word hypocrite, so I won’t bore my readers with Webster’s narrative concerning the word. I consider the word hypocrite to be the most overused and misused word in the dictionary. Why? Because most people use the word to attack individuals they disagree with. Employees accuse their bosses of being hypocrites, children accuse their parents of being hypocrites, and citizens of nearly every community often accuse their elected officials of being hypocrites. We rarely accuse ourselves of being hypocrites.
“You’re a hypocrite!” That phrase has appeared in countless movies, books, and plays. The teenager who wants to keep smoking cigarettes uses the accusation to justify breaking the law. The employee who rejects the chain of command uses this proclamation to inspire a mutiny against management. The city resident with a great deal of unpaid parking tickets invokes the allegation to fling mud at the mayor who has an exemption to such charge.
Now I’m not saying that the word hypocrite needs to be stricken from the English language; not saying that at all. The word is sometimes used in its proper context, but more often than not, it is used to justify our own bad behavior or our own disdain for the fallen world we live in. A boss who doesn’t work as hard as we do is no excuse for us to be lazy or resentful. A parent who mistreats his body is not a catalyst for his children to do the same. A mayor who seems oblivious to the rule of law does not justify citizens embracing anarchy.
The word hypocrite has become a security blanket for the excuse maker. Commenting on the character flaws of others is a good way to keep our focus off of what we can do to improve our own disposition. At some point in our lives we all fail to follow our own good advice. I know a man who was never late on a single bill until he was involved in a terrible car crash and was not able to work; is he a hypocrite because he always talked about the need to avoid late fees by paying what we owe when the payment is due? I don’t believe he is.
Consider what Proverbs 10:12 (NIV) says: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” That wisdom should limit our use of the word hypocrite against those around us. In the time it takes us to tell others about a hypocritical act, we could be checking our own timeline for errors in judgment and disregard for good advice.