Forgiving Hypocrisy



“Beware of the Dog”, House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii (1st century CE)

Advocacy is a tricky thing, especially when you are trying to condone a behavior. I have lots of opinions on how we should act in relation to food, but I don’t mind admitting that I am often a hypocrite, and you should be too. So long as there is no encroachment upon the freedom of another person and you aren’t trying to claim glory for righteousness (both of which should be avoided anyway), I don’t see anything wrong with voicing an informed opinion about something and yet, at times, acting counter to that opinion. If involuntary, the transgression should be met with leniency and reflection, but it’s also worthwhile to revisit our established prejudices voluntarily from time to time in order to reevaluate the merits of our stance, even if that means behaving in a way you don’t generally prescribe. Occasionally acting outside your comfort zone is a good thing.

For example, I have long advocated for an avoidance of highly processed foods, by which I mean those that are artificially packed with salts, sugars, and fats in order to create addictive bliss points. (The reasons why are for another post.) Still, as everybody knows, the best ketchup is Heinz (obviously), and I’ve given up any pretense that I can make my own ketchup that tastes just as good or replace it with something “healthier”. I’ve tried both, and probably will again, but neither have come close to Heinz. This is one instance when I would be denying myself the best of its kind if I were to commit to a relentless adherence to my message. So while I am all for avoiding highly processed foods as a general rule, there is no need to be an ascetic. Moderation in all things means limiting your consumption; it also means not eliminating your consumption. Avoiding indulgences makes them more enjoyable when they are consumed. Being a hypocrite has its perks.

Forgiveness of hypocrisy is especially important in today’s culture if we are to remedy divisive discourse. The succinct and inciteful nature of social media often favors extremist remarks as a means of capturing the attention of a reader. Complexity or vacillation is vilified for showing weakness, and so arguments become simple and rigid, cavalier validations for the like-minded rather than invitations for worthwhile dialogue. Make no mistake, inflammatory headlines are extremely effective as click-bait. They are also extremely ineffective in the dissemination of accurate information. There are often real and valid concerns hidden underneath, but since they suppress rather than encourage a constructive exchange of ideas, messages that may be moderately valid needlessly suffer under the strain of rigidity. We can do better as both authors and interlocutors.

My point is that I see no reason to shy away from making claims about our relationships with food for fear of sounding like a hypocrite, nor do I see any reason to adopt extreme stances in the pursuit of readers. I try to avoid absolutes in an effort to deliver a message that is accurate, helpful, and accessible. Rather than asking yes/no questions, I tend to ask TWE (To What Extent) questions. I love complexity and intricacy and I cherish my good fortune that allows me the luxury of inquiry. Moreover, I am flexible. Except when I’m not.

Further reading: Scientific American, on how charges of hypocrisy can stifle meaningful dialogue.