Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Koan of Non-Hypocrisy

Bandage of Faith, 2009, oil on canvas by Danny Sillada

As a writer on Zen practice, and more generally on ending suffering, I often need to express the concept of not-being-a-hypocrite. And therein lies a quandary: we have no word for that in English. Try it: finish the following sentence with any of the fourteen suggested antonyms in my online thesaurus: "The behaviour of an enlightened person is..."

  • forthright
  • frank
  • genuine
  • honest
  • humble
  • open
  • real
  • truthful
  • actual
  • authentic
  • just
  • reliable
  • righteous
  • sincere

Not one of those attributes, laudable though they be, means "not hypocritical".

Let's try again. Given that "hypocrisy is opposite of faith", its essence must therefore be:
  • fairness
  • frankness
  • honesty
  • openness
  • trustworthiness
  • truth
  • truthfulness
  • uprightness
  • forthrightness
  • righteousness
  • sincerity

Again, none of those means "the character trait of not doing the opposite of what one insists others do."

And finally: "A true man of no rank is first and foremost not a hypocrite." He is therefore… a what? My online thesaurus refuses even to try on this one; it doesn't list a single antonym, weak or otherwise.

I smack into this wall every day. I can exhort the reader (and much more often, myself) not to be a hypocrite, but "Be a… uh… person who reflexively and instinctively monitors his or her behaviour and speech for consistency with the teachings he or she espouses!" does not fit on a rubber bracelet. In English, there is no positive exhortation; we can only condemn. And you know what that makes us. (Hint: "ironic" is only the beginning.)

This is a serious problem, not just for our language, but for our minds and souls. Even etymology abandons us here; hypocrite literally means "one who criticises (him- or herself) too little", but the opposite ("hypercrite") would mean "one who criticises others all the time," as in the adjective hypercritical.

And that isn't the opposite of hypocrite. It's another synonym.

Wu Ya's commentary: "Solve for X."

(Bandage of Faith [artwork] courtesy of Danny Sillada [artist], Wikimedia Commons, and a generous photographer.)
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