Transcending Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy appears to be running rampant in the human race at this point in time. I’m not interested in calling out the hypocrisy I observe in specific individuals so much as I am in discussing why it appears so common today.

My thoughts? Hypocrisy emerges in our behaviors because we have not yet successfully discovered how to “collapse” our competing frameworks for reality into a single, unified approach to the whole of life. Instead, from childhood on we absorb, mostly without question, any number of ways to frame reality. We get handed these frames—all of which have been helpfully crafted by others at various times in human history—by our parents, our teachers, and eventually our peers. This process of collecting new frames continues throughout our adulthood—unless and until we begin, at last, to notice our own mental stress as a consequence of our having adopted too many competing frames. Stress arises when our minds discern that the frames we have been collecting don’t align. In fact, they often contradict each other. Worse, the more frames we accumulate the more inner dissonance arises in us.

Our frames act like lenses or filters through which we observe the world and then judge what’s occurring within it. It helps if we picture each frame like a puzzle’s fixed borders. Each life event then looks like a brand new piece we must somehow fit into that puzzle. Most often our frames contain two hemispheres, one good and the other evil. We then insert the new event into whichever hemisphere seems to be the best fit for it, based on what other events it most closely resembles. Let’s pause here and give ourselves some credit for having invented this strategy in the face of an ever-changing world that confuses us so. It’s a strategy that’s worked reasonably well for us for a very, very long time—many thousands of years at least, to the best of our knowledge. Of course, as with all inventions, it worked best when we first invented it to address the problem of how we ought to make sense of the living world as a human collective. That was, however, also a time when reality didn’t change very much for most human beings between their births and their deaths. People back then didn’t need to bend, or stretch, or break their base frame very much to accommodate what was occurring in their world. An event happened. People with a like way of framing then framed the event together. They then reacted to it, both individually and collectively, as if their frame offered a final word on the subject. How easy it must have felt to know exactly what to do whenever anything happened!

Unfortunately for humanity, our lives have grown far more complex over time. As we migrated across the entire planet and as our wildly different life experiences began producing wildly different needs and creative options, we belatedly discovered that our very first social framework was no longer large enough or comprehensive enough to enable us to evaluate each of these new experiences without us noticing that what our frame said we ought to do and what we now wanted to do in response no longer aligned. Our actual life experiences had begun to trump our preexisting assumptions. At that point, we began frantically creating new frames to take each new situation into account. Even so we hesitated to discard our old frames because we’d been taught to venerate them for their hard-won wisdom. That explains how the biblical New Testament (a brand new frame) got tacked without much resistance onto the preexisting Old Testament (an increasingly insufficient and obsolete way of framing the world) to create a brand new framework for the faithful. Unfortunately, these two go together about as well as do oil and water, so their combination has created a way of viewing reality that itself is chock-full of horrible contradictions. Ditto the combination of the Old Testament with Islam, the infallibility of kings with democratic governance, or the agrarian system with modern technology.

Today, most people evaluate the world through any number of semi-useful frames. Indeed, frames that encompass religion, nation, culture and family get embedded in us before we’re old enough to evaluate them in any critical way. Later on as we mature we begin to notice their limitations and failings, so we then to add to our frame collection in order to gain access to more nuanced responses. Eventually our frame collection will include a peer group/generational framework, a scientific framework, an artistic or qualitative framework, an economic framework, a political framework, an environmental framework, a cosmic framework, etc.

Nowadays whenever something new occurs in our world our first reaction (which is largely unconscious) is to decide which frame to use to help us choose what reaction to have. Our problems with hypocrisy begin there. For, as we quickly discover, the more frames we have accumulated the more often we will experience internal contradictions for what we should do. For example, many Americans have been indoctrinated into a basic religious framework—most likely a form of Christianity, since that’s the most practiced American religion. The Christian framework states, quite clearly, both “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet as new events occur and as we observe the complexity of life that results from its highly varied and ever-changing conditions, the fixed frame of Christianity becomes more problematic. For what are we supposed to do if our nation (itself a frame) grows threatened or feels attacked by another nation? How can we, as loving Christians, “justify” the devastation and destruction of warfare—much of which we ourselves initiate out of fear of an imagined future threat? How can we morally excuse the tragic loss of life and wanton destruction of property, livelihoods, and community that result from war’s collateral damage, and that we may have even triggered by our fear for our country?

When conflict arises between two frames that were invented in different times and under different global or cultural conditions, it invites hypocrisy from those who have not found a way to consolidate these competing frames into a single, coherent way of self-expressing. Such hypocrisy is not intentional; it’s actually the natural result of having adopted multiple sets of competing beliefs about what’s right and wrong, and then never having taken the time to sort through the various frame contradictions to reach greater internal coherence. We humans tend to avoid sorting through our frames to resolve their contradictions because we fear that if we acknowledge the existence of such contradictions we will undermine the value of our own frames. We’ve been taught to venerate the wisdom of our ancestors and our elders, even to the point of accepting that they received that wisdom through a direct pipeline to God that we do not have. Thus we must trust that they knew how to engage with reality better than we now do—or than we ever will. Unfortunately, that’s a lot like gazing at a map of the world that was drawn in the tenth century to figure out where to go, only to notice that it doesn’t contain the Americas, or even much of the southern hemisphere. We then have to pretend that these land masses don’t exist or aren’t of value, or else we assume they must be “evil” or wrong for daring to have arisen from the sea to challenge our maps. We will say or do virtually anything to avoid admitting that our maps are obsolete or were drawn incorrectly, because without a map we can trust we won’t know where to go. We therefore stay within the confines of the map we have accepted as the correct one, and beyond whatever it offers we say, “there be dragons.”

This explains why so many people today are in denial about the existence of climate change. Many prefer to use only an economic or political frame to guide their daily actions, versus embracing an environmental frame that suggests we are inflicting long-term damage upon the health of our living planet. This internal avoidance of dissonance then gets justified by attacking environmental science as less trustworthy, thus less useful, than the beneficial effects of capitalism. The assumption further asserts that capitalism (a frame too often now treated like a religion that must not be questioned) will invent highly profitable ways to overcome whatever problems it happens to generate. Any data to the contrary then gets dismissed as the ravings of those who refuse to apply an appropriate (purely economic) frame to reality.

Whenever our favored frames compete with each other, we experience cognitive dissonance that can lead to hypocrisy in our own behavior. We can “see” the event that’s occurring, yet we’re unsure which frame to apply to ensure we react to it rightly. Should we rely on a religious frame that labels all killing wrong, or do we opt for a nationalistic frame that honors killing for the sake of country, and that labels soldiers as heroes of the cause? This creates quite a mess for our minds to resolve when it comes to problem solving, so it’s no wonder that mental illness, drug abuse, rebellion, incivility, and human-on-human violence is on the rise.

So here’s the thing: each time we notice a contradiction between our internal frames, the dissonance shines the light of awareness on the blind spots (or shadows) we harbor. These are the places and spaces where our frames rub against one another, and where they cause us to act in the world in contradictory and often chaotic ways. Clearly then, possessing more than one frame from which to choose can complicate our reactions tremendously. So then, what’s the solution to this thorny problem of countless competing frames? Especially given the fact that new frames are being invented all the time to compensate for where our existing frames are silent, because their framers could never have even imagined the events that are now unfolding in real time, and that we must face? For even if we add more frames to our own collection with the finest of intentions, we eventually realize that adding new frames does not resolve our internal dissonance. Indeed, adding new frames often expands the dissonance instead of reducing it. For when eight billion people opt to apply their uniquely different set of frames to each new shared experience that we have, interpersonal conflict increases exponentially. Our collective ability to cooperate and address a shared problem successfully falls apart when our frames don’t align with the frames that others prefer to apply. The more frames we invent to aid ourselves in knowing what to do in all situations, the more fractured becomes our ability to respond to the rising novelty of life.

It may seem that the simplest solution to this challenge (which appears to be the one we’ve been trying to impose through the use of force for centuries now) is to draw one totally comprehensive frame for the whole of humankind, and to then ensure that everyone alive uses only that frame in perpetuity. Failure to use it correctly would result in collective condemnation and social punishment. In that way—once we have at last defeated those enemies who persist in applying a contradictory frame to the one we prefer—we hope to eventually rest assured that someday every stranger that we encounter will perceive the world through the exact same frame that we are now using to view it. However, the problem with choosing one frame and then imposing it by force upon all other people is that none of our frames can provide us with universal guidance that will serve us best in each new situation that may arise. Causes and conditions vary too widely across our home planet (let alone throughout the rest of the universe!) for us to come up with a useful, one-size-fits-all reality frame. Additionally, as our social interactivity and creative capacities expand exponentially, we can’t begin to agree on a single frame we can rest assured will suffice in all new situations. Such a frame would need to look something like: “Thou shalt not kill….except when someone is inflicting harm upon others, or upon your beloved nation, or else may seek to harm others in the future, or else seeks to harm your nation, or if you need to act against them in self-defense, or if they invade your home and refuse to leave on demand, or if they steal from you…although not to eliminate a potential baby unless you have been raped or are a victim of incest, and then only if you don’t have the mental wherewithal to manage the experience without dying yourself, or if the baby appears to be terminally ill before delivery…although it’s still okay to kill an adult if that person has committed a heinous crime and has been legally sentenced to death, but not if they have a legal appeal still pending or before they have exhausted all such appeals, and then only in a humane and loving way…” Can you see where that leads? We wind up with endless array of “carve outs” to our frame’s basic rules that we then must painfully sort through for applicability in this new situation before we respond. And even then, most assuredly something new and unplanned for will quickly arise to generate conflict, as in: what are we expected to do with fetal embryos that have been abandoned by their original donors? Is it okay to use that tissue to save other lives?

We can see how much confusion arises when we seek to apply a single-frame that seeks to include all possible outcomes before reality actually unfolds. We can see the challenge of trying to apply a compassionate moral approach through a fixed frame. We can even imagine the sorts of challenges we will someday face when something radical occurs and we cannot rely on existing frames to offer a useful answer for what we should do. What then can be done about this seemingly intractable problem of framing reality?

What if we simply admitted that no frame we humans might draw to contain the entirety of reality will ever be sturdy enough, flexible enough, comprehensive enough, or compassionate enough to empower us to know what to do in every new situation. No fixed frame can ever suffice, for our frames are not alive. They do not contain the inherent creative energy of life, which constantly self-presents in novel ways. And since no two situations will ever be exactly alike, the devil lives on eternally in the details. Indeed, the road to hell is paved with every good intention held by all of reality’s framers. As well-meaning as any founding framer’s intentions may have been while creating a frame, by embracing the process of framing we are contributing to a living hell here on Earth. Maybe then, humanity’s challenge isn’t simply that we have already invented and adopted too many frames to enable us to cooperate in a more coherent way, but that we have so far failed to establish a consistent internal attitude from which we can come forward and greet the unknown. Our frames inhibit our natural authenticity, as well as the creative responsiveness that is our birthright by the virtue of our own subjective existence.

What if instead of designing new frames that take into account the endless flow of new information, or constantly updating our old frames to include new information, or else trying to forcibly impose a single, fixed frame onto every living person (or else killing them for refusing) we instead opt to do a deep inner dive and discover our own core attitudes toward life? What happens if, instead of framing reality so we can know what to do in every new situation, we instead establish a consistent inner attitude that reflects how we wish to BE within an ever-changing world? What if we make a concerted effort to embody our highest core values as our default approach to life, no matter what happens?

Because this process invites us to take a default internal attitude rather than impose a fixed frame over reality, it sets us free from the limitations imposed by our frames. We grow freer to change our own attitude if a new situation, or new information, warrants a shift in our energetic approach. We cease objectifying (freeze-framing) reality and begin honoring the novelty and aliveness of life’s waves and patterns. With relaxed alertness we can pay closer attention to what’s unfolding, here and now, and interpret new information without the distraction of sorting through our competing frames. Because our internal attitude—our living mode of beingness—can shift instantly in response to whatever arises, we become increasingly responsive to life.

The internal alignment I have personally found most helpful focuses on seven simple attitudes toward life. They are all I ever need to remember when determining how to respond to whatever shows up. Whenever any negative emotional energy or confusion arises within me and causes me mental stress, I can run a swift internal diagnostics test and determine which of my attitudes appears to be temporarily misaligned. I can then readjust myself instantly by recalibrating my default mode of being. Taken together and sincerely embodied, these seven attitudes are like the primary colors of love that has come to life in a creative supernova. They are: trust, openness, courage, compassion, kindness, patience, and peace. I find that as I choose to present to the world from those default postures, the loving fragrance I radiate is a boundless love for all that exists—here and now. I further find that whenever I meet life with this relaxed and peaceful attitude, the energy being exchanged between myself and all other life forms invites a coherence powerful enough to shift our shared experience for the better. Additionally, if ever a different energetic is needed because the situation warrants something else, I can instantly shift to a different internal attitude.

The benefits of exploring this new way of being? When we learn how to establish and hold a consistent inner attitude toward life, we no longer run around in a state of constant, low-grade stress because we fear that life will someday present us with something we won’t know how to handle. We cease worrying that we won’t know which frame to apply in each new situation. Our fear of being judged as doing wrong or being evil (and possibly being punished for all our transgressions) begins to dissipate with the passage of time. We begin to develop a powerful sense of trust in ourselves, and in our boundless capacity to be open to new experiences. We begin to feel more courageous, even when something begins to arise for which we have no preexisting historical framework. We exude compassion for the suffering, no matter the cause or what/who is doing the suffering. We become kinder in all of our living interactions, no matter what energy others may choose to emote. We become more patient and allow incoming information to inform us before we offer a thoughtful response to what is arising. Above all, we move in the world more gracefully because we seek first and foremost to present ourselves as peaceful by default. This inner consistency creates spaciousness and a sense of safety that invites others, in turn, to trust life enough to drop their own problematic frames and begin to open themselves more fully to life.

This approach isn’t the end game for our species; merely the start of a brand new adventure in interbeing. Think of it as the origin of a new way of being in the world that can provide us the energy we need to transcend the limitations that all of our frames have been creating for centuries now. I invite you not to take my word for it. Please…don’t adopt this understanding as a new way to frame the world. Use it as a jumping off point from which to explore the internal attitudes that feel best for you to adopt as your way of being wherever you go, and then experiment with self-expressing as a coherent, authentic being in our shared world. Discover for yourself how to be a living wave of energy instead of a fixed object in a changing world.

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