We humans pretty much suck at spotting our own hypocrisy. When we only talk the talk and fail to walk the walk, we’re often able to simply justify the dissonance for ourselves and keep going. Many spiritual paths and religions have this mechanism built in. There’s a “nobody’s perfect, we all are working towards redemption” thing written right into the dogmas and tenets, so it becomes just fine to be very knowledgeable about the expectations but crap at living up to them. If we feel anything, it’s a little indignant guilt. Who is someone else to judge us, right?
But when we advocate for one thing and live another, something in us lets us know. We feel it as something – usually some variation on guilt or shame or vulnerability – and it comes out in thought and action. Maybe we get defensive or judgmental. Maybe we become good at arguing to justify ourselves.
Me? I’m late for things. All the time. I’ve battled it all my life. In fact, I lost my first professional job over it. And still, twenty years later, I struggle with punctuality. I’ve gone through times when I tried to point fingers and justify my lateness by comparing myself to other more annoying or detrimental behaviors committed by others. There have been phases when I’ve been really critical of other people being late because, for instance, they were unpredictably late by up to 30 minutes when I’m always predictably 10 minutes late. I’ve felt guilt and shame over it. I’ve been defensive about it.
And none of those reactions benefited anyone at all.
These days my schedule is less set in stone, and I’m the first to say that I don’t hold others to any kind of strict schedule as a rule because to do so would make me a colossal hypocrite. It doesn’t make it better for me to be late all the time, but at least I’m not being a crappy person who on top of my lack of punctuality.
Surely it’s not worse to walk imperfectly on your spiritual path than it is to make others feel bad for not walking perfectly on theirs. That’s what happens when we preach expectations we, ourselves, don’t uphold. We transfer the guilt we don’t want to feel about our own perceived shortcomings onto others by holding them to standards they are unlikely to meet. After all, if we can’t do it, why do we expect them to?