If I could count the number of people who are able to live up honestly to the very same advice and criticisms they all too eagerly dish out, I wouldn’t need more fingers than I already have. Both advice and criticisms are a curious part of the human condition: we often think others need them more than we do. And we regularly consider ourselves better than the average person and therefore beyond reproach.
You don’t have look too far to find such examples. Pope Francis recently recommended that U.S. Catholics should carefully study their two presidential candidates (Hilary & Trump), pray and then vote. Having criticised Trump for being ‘unchristian’, his intent is likely an exhortation to the faithful to look deeply into each candidate’s moral and religious beliefs before going to the voting booth. Yet, his brand of thinking does not extend to whether religion could entirely be man made and false – an argument that is rapidly gaining traction in this modern era. Whatever thinking he wants you to do only goes as far as it doesn’t cause you to question your faith.
And then there is Pastor Letsego who preached to his church congregation on biblical verses and Christian morality. He committed suicide after he accidentally sent pictures of his private parts to his church group instead of his mistress, who by the way was also a member of his church. Despite suspicions about his affair, he was on the record for saying that ‘he was a father to everyone and she (his mistress) was like his daughter.’ These behaviours are of course not limited only to religion. If you look hard enough, many historically famous people such as Steve Jobs, Issac Newton and even Einstein, often said one thing but failed to live up to the very issue(s) they heaped criticisms on.
Even the future American presidential candidates are themselves monolithic monuments of hypocrisy – we know for sure that Trump is a hopelessly incompetent businessman and a psychopathic liar, and while Hilary claims to fight for the average American, she has been caught accepting generous ‘donations’ from Wall Street and ‘special’ interest groups. The barbed criticisms they trade over many issues are ironically examples of their inability to live up to their own advice. Why do we say one thing but completely do the opposite? Why do we expect others to live up to our absurd standards and yet give ourselves a free pass? For whatever reason, human psychology is obviously at work and these contradictory behaviours are not peculiar to those who study the human mind.
We can indeed hold completely conflicting views in our mind and find no problems with it. Whether it’s the father who comes home and screams at his daughter for not studying enough and then promptly proceeds to lounge on the sofa for the next 6 hours playing hand phone games, or the principal who lies to gain prestige for the school and then goes on to happily teach moral education to a class of forty, we behave in ways that an independent observer could only, in the most optimistic sense, describe as alien and shocking. The people who are really in need of a wake-up call are often the very same people who dutifully try to dish it out.
This phenomena of failing to evaluate yourself in the very same criticisms and advice we dispense might fall under the shadow of an extremely well-known cognitive bias, the Dunning Kruger effect: low ability individuals fail to recognise their own lack of skill and proportionally believe that they are much better than others. It’s a frightening bias that’s on display everywhere, and also explains why we fail to see the hypocrisy embedded in our criticisms / advice. We just simply don’t consider ourselves part of the fault because we cannot recognise our inferiority. When our ego risks serious damage, we move into full recovery mode that leverages on denial and deceit.
However, it’s important to understand that even if most advice and criticisms are often hypocritical, it doesn’t diminish the truth of their intent. Even if a murderer gives a tediously moralistic speech on why murder is wrong, we should examine the contents of his argument and not be fixated on his past history or deeds. Nor should we be swayed by his silver tongue (if he has any). But I know for sure that the next time someone starts with a holier than thou attitude of ‘let me tell you about how I struggled when I was…’ or ‘this is how you should lead your life…’, I know it’s most likely exaggerated and inaccurate. More importantly, I am acutely aware that most speeches are far less inspirational that they have any business being – the speakers themselves don’t act on what they preach.
So, Have You Thought About (HYTA) whether you’ve lived up to your own advice and criticisms?