The culture of hypocrisy and sycophancy

August 19, 2017

The culture of respect can be a fine thing, but one of the problems is that it can very easily degenerate into a culture of sycophancy and hypocrisy.

When one respects another person, it’s quite easy to remember the best points about that person, the talents, the personality traits, that one feels are praiseworthy and worth emulating. The problems happen when the person is not one in whom one sees such obviously good points.

To take an example, an honest thing for me to say to a budding photographer, who has just won a fairly inconsequential award (there are awards by the hundreds in these days of social media) would be to say, “That was a good beginning, now take it forward from here and I’ll soon see you making good images.”

But our culture has been, and is (even more so when all the pundits keep stressing “positivity”) to not make negative, or even negative-sounding remarks. So my less-than-honest response becomes, “Oh, that was a great photograph! Congratulations!”

Now, this kind of thing becomes sort of self-sustaining. The next time I meet the photographer, s/he is now used to my saying a complimentary thing about the work. So off I go again on the path of praise.

However, my inner voice does do a bit of protesting. So, to silence that inner prodding which is telling me, “This is NOT what you should be saying if you were to be honest”…I resort to hyperbole to try and convey a postitive message, and an unspoken underpinning of “Look, I don’t really mean what I am saying”. So, I say something like, “Oh, you have become a star photographer now! The whole world is looking up to you!”

However, there is no way that the person I am addressing knows the complicated mental process in my head. That person takes the compliment inherent in my bombastic words.

So now, the culture of hypocrisy is set. I cannot, each time I meet this person, suddenly say, “Oh, but the last few photos you posted weren’t really good, but I like the present one a little more.”

When one is dealing with others who are higher in the social, financial, work, power, social or knowledge heirarchy, this culture of hypocrisy turns into a culture of sycophancy. i do not want to be the only dissonant voice in a room of admirers; I do want to please this person, for one or many reasons; so I add a couple of honorifics (Indian culture being well-provided with these…from “saar!” to “ustaad”) and join in the general throng of fanboys (ok, let me be gender-correct, fanpersons.)

But, in my mind and brain, try as I might, that little voice is not stilled. I know that I have not been honest. But I am too lazy, and too weak, to try and undo my mistake, so I drown out the voice with the idea of “But I am finding something postive about that person!” and continue on my path to perdition.

Pretty soon, I am well-set as both a hypocrite and a sycophant. I am unable to express an honest opinion if it is a dissenting one, and worse, I find myself getting cynical,too, when I get compliments myself. I know myself to be insincere; therefore, I begin to suspect insincerity in others. Therefore, I repeatedly ask for compliments in order to reassure myself that the compliments are, indeed, genuine and meant.

The culture of sycophancy and hypocrisy is well and truly established when I can no longer hear the voice of my conscience irritating my inner ear when I praise someone fulsomely; I am now able to actually convince myself that I am feeling good about having been positive about a person, and happy that i have avoided a situation of possible conflict, where the other person might take offence at my honest opinion.

This culture sets in to the point where I am entrenched in my ivory castle of false positivity….and when an honest person (oh yes,we do have them!) pierces my armour of smugness with a remark that is less than complimentary..or even with a qualified compliment….instead of viewing it as constructive criticism, and considering it objectively, I take umbrage that my work has been criticized, and denounce the other person, even indulging in ad hominem sometimes…attacking the person, not the opinion.

Surely, the intolerance, the sensitive corns and the quick rages I see around me today are the result of this culture of sycophancy and hypocrisy. How can we be a happy society if we are not honest to each other?