Talking about Hypocrisy



“Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue”, the saying goes.  However, in the time of a pandemic, hypocrisy can be lethal.  If a leader says, “stay at home, protect lives”, the message is undermined when members of the government break the rules. 


It’s rare that hypocrisy has such drastic consequences.  However, this is precisely what we are facing into now.  Dominic Cummings apparently had a hand in crafting the simple, effective message of lockdown: “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.”  But when it came obeying it personally, he couldn’t bear being locked down.  Rather, he drove over 250 miles to his family’s estate in Durham.  He apparently was also caught going to the beauty spot of Barnard’s Castle with his wife for her birthday.  If we add his actions to his words, his slogan, “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.” apparently should be followed by a “just kidding”.


When confronted with the consequences of their misdeeds, a normal person would admit to shame and apologise.  Contrition is not on Mr. Cummings’ emotional palette.  He believes he is not bound by his own prescriptions; what’s worse is that his boss, Boris Johnson, doesn’t seem to think so either.  They are the elite, they would likely have us believe, and rules, laws and strictures, even those developed by the keenest scientific minds, do not apply.  Mr. Cummings went to his parents’ estate in Durham; he broke the rules, but he has an estate, he has power, and that, in his mind, gives him the right.


A certain level of hypocrisy is a normal, even beneficial, part of life.  We tell our children not to do things that we may have done when they were their age; bitter experience informs our opinion and makes us want better for them.  Church leaders preach peace and love, but underneath they are as susceptible to vanity, wrath, and sin as the rest of us.  A level of hypocrisy provides us with the impetus to do better; the difficulty is that we must remain ignorant of much of the hypocrisy in train.


Is that possible in an era as connected as ours?  A celebrity goes to a restaurant and can’t escape requests for selfies.  We are all mortal, but the internet and the communications we share across it, live forever.  Every last chapter and verse of our foibles is out there: the message we wrote in all caps, the intemperate words we used.  Not everything is worth repetition or emulation.  Sometimes, it’s best that things are forgotten.


Perhaps our connected era demands higher standards.  If you go into politics, you should be conscious of this: there is no room for issuing life and death instructions and then throwing them away casually when they become inconvenient.  It’s not enough to say, “reduce your carbon footprint” and then make only token gestures towards doing so.  Like private hypocrisy, public hypocrisy can be a force for good, only if its sufficiently exposed and as a result, we demand that our leaders do as they say, and what they prescribe is what they do.






Please login to drop a comment for this post. Click here


Posted 2 years ago

Cummings knew he was flouting the rules and he knew that he would get away with it. They


Posted 2 years ago

So much shame and disparity in the fact that rules apply for some and not for everyone. If we all carred as much the curve would not be going as slow as it is. It sets a dangerous precedent. People who are struggling are clinging onto the word of those above. And if double standards are being committed, what is there to believe anymore. Dangerous this way of acting and i can only hope others still stray strong and do not follow suit.


Posted 2 years ago

" Church leaders preach peace and love, but underneath they are as susceptible to vanity, wrath, and sin as the rest of us." Preaching to the choir. We all sin that is a given. We all are hypocrites in our own ways. What he did, i understand. But a man of his position and influence needs to know so much better before he acts on such behavior. This country has a way of bullying people that is very wrong but he broke the code. He is a hypocrite and needs to retire.


Posted 2 years ago

Interesting but if you where in his position would you not do the same?


Posted 2 years ago

(Sorry for the long post, but hypocrisy is a concept I find fascinating!) I think that, as humans, it takes a lot for us to admit to being a hypocrite because we are taught to perceive hypocrisy as something innately bad. But as you say, hypocrisy is sometimes a good thing (and, actually, is present in many forms in our daily lives). And just to expand on your examples above, it's sometimes very hard to not be a hypocrite. For example, I believe in our impact on global warming, but I will travel by plane to get to the other side of the world because it's easier, faster, more practical and logistically feasible vs getting there by boat. I also think you hit the nail on the head with your line 'perhaps our connected era demands higher standards'. Of all the aspects of human life and society that social media in particular has amplified, I think hypocrisy is one of the biggest. Unfortunately, I think it has driven more and more people to see things through a lens that is becoming increasingly black or white, giving less and less room for the grey areas where a lot of issues exist. I don't think it's a coincidence that a similar pattern can be seen in our politics which, in general, has become more tribalised in recent years. With all that being said, I find it hard to see the grey areas in what Dominic Cummings has done. He acted in a manner that was directly in breach of the guidelines the public were being asked to abide by at the time. He travelled, with suspected Coronavirus, across the country to access childcare when we were all told to stay at home no matter what, with the exception of specific circumstances. There are also far too many holes and bizarre explanations in his story