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12 Tips For Identifying The Real Hypocrites

When each accuses the other of hypocrisy who is right?

Accusations of hypocrisy are everywhere and generally come in pairs since they arise in head-to-head conflict. In conflict, cross-accusation of hypocrisy is as common as cat’s games in tic-tac-toe, and like cats, arrived at after only a few exchanges:

A: I’m not wrong.

B: Yes you are.

A: No YOU are.

B: You’re a hypocrite for accusing me .

A: No YOU’RE the hypocrite.

B: No YOU are!

Whether you’re in one of these conflicts or just watching one—for example, a presidential debate—you may wonder who is the real hypocrite?

Or maybe you don’t wonder but should. Your gut thinks it knows, but maybe it’s wrong.

In politics for example, your gut tells you which candidate is honest and which one is the hypocrite. The honest one is the one who’s on your side, the one your local culture supports, the one you’d rather have a beer with, the one who just feels honest. And whomever he or she is attacking is the real hypocrite.

Step back from your gut sense and you’ll notice that your opponents have the same exact gut sense, but in support of the opposite candidate. They’re sure the honest one is the one on their side, the one that their local culture supports, the one that they’d rather have a beer with, the one who just feels honest to them.

Same exact gut sense but flipped. To your opponents your candidates are the hypocrites, and you are too for supporting them.

You might say, “Well people who don’t agree with my gut are obviously idiots.” And they would say the same about you, which speaks volumes about everyone’s potential for hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is having a double standard, granting yourself the slack you don’t give others. The most efficient way to do this is to divide the world into the deserving us and the undeserving them.

Divide it by any standard, it doesn’t matter: Race, class, gender nationality or something as vague as the idiot them vs. the smart us.

However you slice it, make sure you’re solidly on the deserving side. It’s easy. Just look at what you are, declare it better than what you aren’t and you have a free ticket to a hypocritical double standard.

Getting beyond your gut sense of who’s the real hypocrite takes work, which is another reason people don’t wonder. They say “Ah they’re all hypocrites, the hell with them,” or they say, “Everyone’s a hypocrite. Who cares?”

In the long run each of us cares. Yes, everyone is at least a little bit hypocritical, but high-powered hypocrites are the bane of human existence.

To take an obvious example, when Hitler was dying he said he was only trying to defend Germany. Assad, Kim Jong Un, ISIS leaders—the whole lot of the mass manslaughterers—they’re extreme hypocrites.

So if you don’t want to end up living under hypocritical tyranny or making others live under it—and that at any scale from the nation to the household— roll up your damned sleeves and get to wondering about your gut. For your sake and everyone’s.

Figuring out who is the bigger hypocrite, even if it’s you, is your highest duty as a citizen of our nation, but even just of your household or workplace. Everywhere we interact with people, you’ll find cross accusations of hypocrisy with guts lining up on opposite sides, confident they know for sure who the real hypocrite is.

To overcome this escalating war of accusations, we have to become integrity connoisseurs and not just by declaring that we are, which everyone does. One’s gut sense that one is already an integrity connoisseur is meta-hypocrisy, hypocrisy about one’s hypocrisy:

“Moi?! I would never be a hypocrite like them. I’m an integrity connoisseur. I’m sure I am. I’ve checked with myself three times about it and I always agree with myself. Therefore I must know integrity when I see it and I see it in me.”

Here are a few short tips for getting beyond your gut sense to who’s the bigger hypocrite in a conflict.

  1. Despite the “I know you are but what am I?” rhetoric, maybe both are bigger hypocrites, and maybe neither is. There doesn’t have to be one winner and one loser in an accusation contest.
  2. Sometimes you catch a hypocrite red handed: The anti-gay, anti-drug crusader caught buying coke from his male prostitute is definitely a hypocrite. Still, catching one red handed shouldn’t let the other one off the hook. Again, maybe both are hypocrites.
  3. Degree of hypocrisy matters: Any of us can be hypocritical, but that doesn’t mean all hypocrisy is created equal. There’s a fine line between tolerable and unconscionable hypocrisy. Start thinking about where that line is.
  4. The biggest hypocrite may well be the one who most confidently denies wrongdoing: This is obvious and yet most people just don’t get it. Even a modestly talented hypocrite can throw a convincing tantrum and swear on his mother’s grave that he’s not doing anything wrong. He might even believe it with all his heart. A decent liar or even just someone who has never been forced to introspect much is going to be able to deny wrongdoing convincingly, pulling out all the stops, and there are many stops to pull — crying crocodile tears over being misunderstood, posturing like the heroic victim of a smear campaign or the selfless champion of absolute truth. There are lots of convincing ways to say, “It’s not me.” Don’t be convinced. Their play acting looks just like the real thing.
  5. The biggest hypocrite may well be the one who accuses most confidently: Again, it’s easy to fake confidence and there are many convincing ways to accuse. Don’t be gullible.
  6. The biggest hypocrite may well be the one with the cleverest biting wit: Wit is a talent quite apart from integrity. Some of the sharpest tongues are in the most unscrupulous heads. When a politician lands a sharp blow, his supporters shriek with glee. But any modestly skilled hypocrite can land sharp blows especially if they can afford to hire writers to script them.
  7. The biggest hypocrite may well be the one who pretends he’s disappointed to have to admit he’s not to blame: Nothing is easier that pretending the easy path is the hardest. It’s a standard ploy. “Oh, please don’t throw me in the briar patch,” or “I didn’t want to believe the product I sell is so good, but in the end I just had to face facts.” There are lots of ways to say in so many words, “Lord knows, I didn’t want to believe you deserve the blame instead of me, but at long last I have to face that truth.” It’s a formula. Don’t suck up to it.
  8. The biggest hypocrite may well be the one who plays neutral judge: A hypocrite’s first refuge is the judge’s bench, where he pretends he’s only after the truth. From the bench he rules any arguments against himself out of order. Again, many fall for this; none should.
  9. “How dare you?!”: Anyone who ever says, “how dare you compare me to him?!” has exposed himself as a hypocrite, someone with a double standard that permanently exempts him from ever even being suspected of doing the kinds of things those other people would do.
  10. Identifying the biggest hypocrite is guesswork: The tips here are mostly how not to guess who’s the hypocrite, in other words how not to fall under the hypocrite’s spell. It would be much easier if you had a recipe that told you for sure who’s the biggest hypocrite. And you do, or rather your gut does. Trouble is that recipe turns out devastatingly wrong sometimes.
  11. Own the guesswork: Recognize that, short of catching someone red handed in extreme hypocrisy, for example, the anti-gay, anti-drug crusader pastor of a megachurch caught buying coke from his male prostitute, there is guesswork involved. Overcoming your gut formula is hard but worth it for your own sake if you don’t want to look back in years and admit that you were an idiot for thinking your gut was so smart.
  12. Rolling up your damned sleeves is the best way to keep from being, or supporting the biggest hypocrite: People who admit that their guts are fallible like anyone else’s are well on their way to eroding their own double standards. They’re not going to say “Moi?! How dare you compare me to that hypocrite?!”