Hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc, contrary to one’s real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue or piety”.1 The term was derived, in the early 1200’s, from the old French word ypocrisie, from the Late Latin term hypocrisis, from the Greek word hypokrisis, which meant “acting on the stage, pretense”. Hypokrisis came from hypokrinesthai, which signified “play a part, pretend” and “answer”. Hypokrineisthai ultimately originated from the prefix hypo-, meaning “under”, and the middle voice of krinein, meaning “to sift, decide”. The significance of the term progressed from “separate gradually” to “answer”, to “answer a fellow actor on stage”, and to “play a part”.2
Hypocrisy is the lie of character. It often develops as a person grows and matures. While children live in simple naivety and straightforwardness, grown-ups must take the greater public into consideration in regards to their actions. Logic and experience lead them to make conclusions on what is the right thing to do in a situation, but the most advantageous action may not necessarily be what the actor believes in. One is sometimes obligated to act contrary to one’s beliefs for the benefit of the entirety.
It is surprisingly difficult for the human nation to escape from hypocrisy in their daily acts. At some point or another, one must pull on a pretense in front of others, may it be intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious. The most common and subtle type of hypocrisy presents itself in the social world, closely associated with politeness. In fact, Ambrose Bierce quoted, “Politeness, n: The most acceptable hypocrisy”.3 Overly courteous remarks are often made between individuals in a social gathering, in a reunion, or over a dining table to please the opponents. These remarks are often inflated and distanced from the speaker’s true feelings, but society has grown to the point where anything less is considered impolite and exaggerated compliments are almost seen as appropriate. In this way, people are constantly pretending to be virtuous in order to be approved and accepted by others.
Hypocrisy is also frequently seen in politics today, as the candidates make campaign promises which they do not believe in or have real intentions of fulfilling in order to gain support from the voters. Candidates also try to create for themselves a superficial, positive image to win the likes of the public. For example, in 2006, David Cameron, the Leader of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom of the time, was accused of hypocrisy because as he rides his bicycle to work in promotion of a greener city, his chauffeur carries his briefcase in his car behind him.4 The pollution-emitting vehicle has completely contradicted Cameron’s green agenda, which in turn, made his bike rides hypocritical.
Hypocrisy is a form of deceit, a fraud. Despite so, it has become unavoidable and inescapable as the present day’s society has progressed to the point where pure truthfulness will make the world shatter and hypocrisy is required to make one feel virtuous and fortify social relationships. As said by Judith Martin, “Hypocrisy is not generally a social sin, but a virtue”.5
1. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, s.v. “hypocrisy”, accessed November 08, 2012, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/hypocrisy?showCookiePolicy=true
2. Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “hypocrisy”, accessed November 08, 2012, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hypocrisy&allowed_in_frame=0
3. “Ambrose Bierce Quotes,” BrainyQuotes, accessed November 08, 2012, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/ambrosebie136480.html
4. BBC News, “Hypocrisy claim over Cameron bike,” April 28, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4953922.stm
5. “Judith Martin Quotes,” BrainyQuotes, accessed November 08, 2012, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/judith_martin.html