I always wanted to be a good person. It’s an old intention of mine—the kind that grows on the intellect like barnacles on a ship. But even as my desire for this goodness has grown and sometimes waned over the course of my life, I would be lying to say that it has ever disappeared altogether. You see, when it comes to my actions and my thoughts, I have been governed by something alien. It’s called a conscience, and I’m going to say with confidence that you have one too. We’re the same, you and me. We’re like twins.
One thing we all agree on is that there is something slimy about a person who disobeys their conscience. If a person thinks with absolute certainty that it is wrong to burgle houses, and then in a fit of manic curiosity decides to burgle his neighbors while they were away, there isn’t a person I know who would pat him on the back. We’re all annoyed with hypocrites.
But on the other hand, we are all hypocrites in some form or another. Just think of a single instance where you might have wagged a finger at a child for leaving the toilet seat up—as if you haven’t hit-it and quit-it before. Not only have you left the seat up a few times but you probably left a giant turd in there without flushing to the surprise some helpless house guest.
You know who you are.
Anyway, so if we’re all hypocrites to some extent or another, so it’s no wonder people fight and argue so often. But when it comes to fighting for what is right—and by that I mean challenging others physically or otherwise to abide by your conscience—there is a subsection of humanity who immediately thinks you are stupid and arrogant, no matter the issue. If you say “thou shalt not” there are a dozen people they can think of who “thou shalt totally-did” and preached the same damn thing. They’ll see you as a bully. And who are you, anyway, their father?
“Yes I am,” I hear a few of you muttering.
Mom says to pickup the dishes after supper but one day the child realizes that every once in a while, mom forgets to pick them up herself. The Catholic Church preaches vehemently against those who harm children sexually or otherwise, and then no one is surprised when the media lashes out against the few clergy members who do harm children sexually (I say few out of fairness to the overwhelming number of clergy members who do no such thing). Hypocrisy is the only universal sin, if you excuse my theistic terminology.
So, where am I going with this?
If you accept my two premises, 1) that people don’t like hypocrites, and 2) that people are hypocrites, then we have only two possible attitudes in regard to fighting for what is right. They are either A) universal hypocrisy is proof that fighting over what is right doesn’t matter because we are all doomed to betray even our noblest of thoughts, or B) we ought not to rely on the example of Mankind when determining rightness or wrongness. Hint: It’s B. Man does not always practice what they preach therefore for what we strive will always have an element of abstraction. Like an Xbox achievement.
Now, I’m not saying that practicing what you preach is overrated and that we all should expect to betray our convictions, thus enabling the betrayal, but I am saying that when it comes to defending those convictions, it is better to look to the convictions themselves then to the men that hold them. This means using logic and reason like two guard dogs on your mental property. But here is the question: how does one stand in the face of all these hypocrites? When all the world will heckle at your ideals?
Like all things that are worth thinking about, it comes down to a paradox.
Much like the paradox of courage, which is loving life so much that you are willing to die in order to preserve it, it involves a balancing act in the human brain. It means having the humility to seek new ideas and the prudence to understand and judge them. Not all ideas are created equal so when you find one that towers higher than the rest, measure it. Sense its breadth and palm every bolt in its foundation. See the strength of the arrows which men use to try and destroy it. Does the idea still stand tall? Is there a taller tower yet? Only through patience and wisdom should you use it to support yourself.
And when you do settle onto an idea which towers over the rest, the tribulation may begin but at least you are fortified. People will call you names and people may try to harm or kill you for it, (remember Socrates?) so just know that the only defense to a good idea is the idea itself. Truly then, I say permit yourself the time to study it, always accepting that it may be knocked down with revelation. If you believe that abortion is okay and want to fight for it, then defend it with reason and have the humility to look for any flaws in its structure. If you believe that homosexuality is a bad idea and want everyone to accept that, then defend it with logic and be humble enough to accept the challengers. At the end of the day, good reader, we are all philosophers and the best of us have found some towers to cling to. It is only those who think all ideas lead to hypocrisy who will be trampled underfoot when the barbarians come.
So don’t be one of them.
Think about why you want people to change, and when the time comes: fight with reason if you have a reason to fight.