As a retired Pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say to me that they had no use for churches since church folks are a bunch of hypocrites.   It is certainly true, churches are full of hypocrites, but so is every other place that has people in it.  I am here to suggest that being a hypocrite isn’t necessarily all bad. 

This post is not about churches, it is about Caregivers.  I am convinced that the only way to be an effective Caregiver is to be a hypocrite. 

First of all, there is certainly hypocrisy that is unhealthy.  Debilitating  hypocrisy is the creation of a false image of yourself.  It is the pretense that you are something you are not.  That sort of hypocrisy gets in the way of honest communication.  It hinders growth.  It promotes a kind of denial that blocks the ability to see the truth. 

I have what seems to me to be a fairly realistic view of people.  I expect people to act in their own interest.  As a result, I am often suspect when someone presents himself or herself as a wonderful, selfless, noble bearer of goodness, caring only for the welfare of others.  Let me add immediately that while I am suspect, I do not rule out the possibility that some are exactly that self-giving and noble.  I just don’t expect it.  Most of us are not. 

Those of us who are Caregivers have probably heard others wonder out loud how we do it.  Sometimes we are embarrassed by people affirming our goodness.  I think it is a good thing to accept those words of affirmation, and appreciate that we may very well be doing a good thing.  The problem comes when we begin to believe that we are just plain wonderful and noble.  The problem comes when we allow a false image of ourselves to develop.  That is a kind of hypocrisy that is destructive.  It hinders growth because it is not real.

Caregivers care about ourselves.  There is self-interest folded into our caregiving.  I guess I need to speak for myself rather than for all Caregivers.  The rest of you are probably more noble than am I.  I love Mary Ann.  It makes me feel good to take care of her.  I get more out of it than she does.  I want other people to respect me.  I care about my image with others.  There is a self-serving element to what I do to care for Mary Ann.  I find meaning in doing the care.  I want to have meaning in my life.  This task offers me the opportunity to find that meaning. 

Then there is the harsh truth that I am not always very nice.  I get grumpy.  I sometimes say things that do not build her up but rather simply vent my frustrations.  There will come a post at a later time on Caregiver’s guilt.  In the matter of hypocrisy, it is far healthier to be painfully honest with ourselves as Caregivers, without creating some false image of who we are and what we are doing.

Then what on earth can be good about hypocrisy when caring for someone else who needs your help?  The etymology of the word is helpful.  It has to do with actors and acting.  If I remember correctly from all those years of Greek, the word’s roots are in the use of masks in the pretense of acting.  How can acting be a good thing when caring for someone who needs your care? 

Good hypocrisy is acting in a way that is good and caring and loving and kind, even when you don’t feel good and caring and loving and kind.  Good hypocrisy is not waiting until your insides are spontaneously producing good behavior but instead, just going ahead and doing the good behavior. 

If I were to wait until I am pure and good and wonderful and noble before doing good things for Mary Ann, there would not be very many good things done.  Good hypocrisy is refusing to allow grumpiness and resentment and frustration to decide every behavior.  Good hypocrisy is choosing good when you don’t feel like being good. 

It is very tempting to use the respected trait of honesty as excuse for bad behavior.  “I was just being honest with you when I said those harsh words!”  “It would be hypocritical of me to be kind to you when I don’t feel like it!”

When counseling with couples about to be married, one of the things that seemed to me to be important to say concerned the nature of commitment, duty to one another.    My counsel was to treat each other in a loving and caring and affirming way during those times in their marriage when they did not like each other.   I was convinced that unless they learned to do that, a marriage of any length was unlikely.  The good news is that when they got through one of those times in their relationship, their relationship would be stronger than ever, stronger than it could have been without going through that time.  Mary Ann and I have been married well over forty-three years now.   We have had a pretty normal life together.  There have been times we were enthralled with each other and times we didn’t much like each other.  We chose to love each other anyway (one of our favorite phrases).

The wonder of it is that when we choose good behavior in our caregiving even when we don’t feel like it, we can actually be changed by the good behavior we have chosen.   Just as good behavior can emerge from good feelings, good feelings can emerge from good behavior. 

Maybe hypocrisy isn’t always a bad thing.  Being honest enough to admit to ourselves our selfish motives and unloving feelings frees us to face them down and refuse to let them rule.  Having the courage to be good when we don’t feel like being good allows us to grow into more than we could have been otherwise. 

It seems to me that good health for Caregivers demands enough honesty to face the reality of our own selfish motives and resentments and less than noble thoughts.  Healthy caregiving demands the courage to face all that and still do the right thing, still act with kindness and concern and gentleness.

Maybe a little hypocrisy can be a good thing. 

 If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Advertisements