We humans are imperfect creatures. We all know this and can list our imperfections by simply examining our own mistakes and foibles. If we were perfect, we’d be God. It seems that many of us want to emulate God’s perfection. Maybe we spend a lot of our time in prayer, reading holy books and doing good works, seeking to be more like God.
With the exception of a handful of human beings like Jesus Christ, whose devotees believe was God in human form, none of us have achieved perfection. There are lots of reasons for this. First, we are born imperfect so it would be totally amazing if somehow through circumstance we never did anything imperfect in our lives, particularly when we are children and simply don’t know better. Second, what is perfect anyhow? Does this mean never missing an opportunity to help a little old lady cross the street? Or is doing it fifty percent of the time acceptable to emulate perfection? Perversely, perfection seems to be a lot like pornography: we can’t define it but somehow we think we know it when we see it. In reality, we tend to pick up from our elders and peers the criteria by which we measure perfection.
It strikes me though that if you are going to ceaselessly strive for perfection, you are doomed to fail. You are suffering the fate of Sisyphus, who as you may recall was doomed to push the same boulder up the mountain, always to have it fall back down the mountain due to the steepness of the mountain and his human limitations. So striving to be perfect seems ultimately pointless because there is no way that you will achieve it. Moreover it’s impossible to measure. Are you ten percent perfect? Fifty percent? Maybe you find out with death if Saint Peter let you through the heavenly gate.
To be truly perfect, in some ways you must cease to be human. A truly perfect person would never feel lust, and certainly not act on it. Maybe it was possible to feel it when they were imperfect, but when they have evolved sufficiently somehow they never will again. Instead, you become serene, eternally smiling, a lot like the Dalai Lama. (I must be imperfect, because I think orange robes look, well, pretty hideous on just about anyone.) Even the Buddhists are having a hard time with the brotherly love thing, showing their imperfections and humanity. Witness news reports out of Burma. Buddhists, feeling encroached on by Muslims, have been rioting, killing and maiming Muslims. Buddha would certainly not approve and would doubtless be aghast. Buddhists though are human and are just as capable of foibles and hypocrisy as the rest of us. As I have noted many times, the vast majority of Christians in American simply are not.
In fact, to be a hypocrite is to be human. The root of hypocrisy is the contrast between your behavior as it actually is and the behavior you profess to emulate. You cannot possibly be a hypocrite if you reject the meme that you must be perfectly consistent in all aspects of your life. The best way not to be a hypocrite is simply to stop proclaiming that you have some superhuman ability to live up to your ideals. Admittedly, this can be hard.
Take infidelity, as an example. It’s an easy example because all but a handful of people into open marriages set the bar too high. Most of us go into marriage publicly promising to our spouse, not to mention to everyone at the wedding, that we will foreswear all others but our spouse for the rest of our lives. No sex from someone else ever, unless of course you divorce, or your spouse dies. You take this vow even if your spouse decides to stop having sex with you. Your only honorable option is to first get a divorce and while separated not even date anyone else. That’s right, you are forbidden from creating profile on match.com until the divorce decree is final, and even though you are busting your nuts to get laid and feel as emotionally empty as a homeless man who spent the last decade inhabiting the underside of an overpass. To address the whole honor and consistency thing, you can’t take any steps to address your misery. You are required to be more miserable.
How long the misery lasts depends on how long your state makes you wait for a divorce. At least in Nevada they got it right: make it easy to get married, and easy to get divorced. This way you can move on. So a hint to those looking to get married: use the left part of your brain and get married at a wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. That’s because the odds are that about even that you will get divorced, so why make yourself needlessly miserable in the future? So many of us though adopt the hypocritical approach. This means infidelity, either sexual or emotional but perhaps both. We choose it because it turns out we are human beings. We choose it because we realize, in retrospect, that despite the considered thought we (hopefully) gave to the whole fidelity thing before getting married, we find in actuality that we can’t handle it. Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Anyone can file for divorce. Most infidelity is probably a result of the societal pressure to appear to be faithful no matter what. As I document in my monthly reviews of the Craigslist Casual Encounters section, there is an overwhelming amount of hypocrisy in this one area alone.
I pick infidelity as a prominent example of foolishly chasing at best improbable ideals, but of course there are so many more. My former stepfather was a secret boozer, something I was not aware of until my mother in law passed away. No wonder he was so often slipping off to the garage for a smoke, and a likely a swig from his hooch. In retrospect, I would have preferred to see him drinking regularly in his recliner. Even the most passionate vegan is likely to work in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich once in a while. Pick the “vice”: smoking, booze, drugs, sex; we’re all likely to have at least one of these, at least occasionally, and we are doomed to succumb to some of them from time to time. If we didn’t have vices, we wouldn’t be human.
So why not then just accept our flawed nature and stop pretending that we among all the other imperfect humans out there will be a perfect creature? For if we do so we actually gain a virtue: the virtue of honesty. If you think about it, being real instead of ideal is akin to being a revolutionary. It may explain why so many of us are attracted to “bad” people and why, perhaps, we avidly read any story about a Kardashian sister. It may also explain why we are drawn like moths to a flame to any story in which hypocrisy is exposed. It makes us feel good to know there are others just like us that simply cannot live up to their professed ideals. No wonder that so many women want to date bad boys. Bad boys may be flawed, but at least they are real. Similarly perhaps that’s why many men are attracted to loose women. We can’t admit it to ourselves, but perhaps secretly we are sick of the Stepford wives around us. All that poise and makeup and hoity behavior strikes us, and usually is, hypocritical and dishonest. A loose woman may be dealing with major issues, but perhaps they give themselves the permission to enjoy sex the same way many of us indulge at our local Old Country Buffet.
How would your life be different if you gave yourself permission to be yourself? My suspicion is most of us would be a lot happier. One thing is for sure: we could no longer be accused of being a hypocrite. Moreover, all the energy that we invest in striving for perfection could be used in other ways, perhaps to just enjoy the life we got, which is already full of hassles and heartaches.
Having produced what I hope is an eloquent essay, let me keep myself out of hypocrisy. Some part of me would like to be real instead of ideal, but it’s too engrained in me. For many aspects of my life, I will always strive for the ideal, even if I know it is impossible. Call it a Catholic upbringing or whatever, but it’s not something I can wholly stop. I do hope though that as I age and my attractiveness level recedes, I will hear nature’s call (which many seniors do) to stop living a good part of my life this way, and simply be my authentic self. Maybe I will be seen as a bit cranky, maybe I’ll come across as a bit inconsistent, but at least I will be real. And that sounds so much more comfortable.
Consider the price you are paying for trying to model ideal behavior. Consider being real instead of surreal. Maybe if you succeed you can channel your inner Dr. Martin Luther King: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.”