Im not judging, Im just saying...

I'm not judging, I'm just saying...

Warn others, and don’t worry about the hypocrisy label

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News

Graduating high school students will soon be headed for beaches and other sunny locales to celebrate their liberation; often with behavior that is best performed far from home. Some will then become college students, many of whom will spend several years exploring the moral universe in an attempt to ‘find themselves,’ right before the hard world finds them and offers them little reward for being fun at parties.

As parents launch their children from home, many of them find it difficult to give suggestions for proper behavior. And the reason is often this: ‘well, who am I to say what they should or shouldn’t do? I did the same thing. I don’t want to be a hypocrite!’

I’ve heard it more than once. The fear of hypocrisy leaves people paralyzed. It’s no surprise. While ‘drunk’ or ‘tramp’ used to be insults, they are no longer. Today, ‘hypocrite’ is about as scathing as ‘judgmental’ in the lexicon of post-modern smack-talk. I don’t know how it happened, but we are desperately afraid of being caught criticizing others for something we ourselves have done.

Mind you, there is a kind of wisdom here, but it’s lost it’s mooring. Jesus said ‘why do you take the speck out of your brother’s eye but ignore the plank in your own? First take the plank out of your own eye, then you can see more clearly to take the speck out of your brothers.’ Yes, we ought to examine ourselves before we judge others.

But that doesn’t mean that experience disqualifies us from warning others about the dangers of certain behavior. This is particularly true when ‘the others’ are our own children or the assorted folks we love.

In order to illustrate this, I will now tell you a story. It is a terrifying story, a tale of misery, woe and nausea. Many years ago, I was with some new friends in Dallas, Texas after completing an officer’s course in the Air Force. My accompanying officers/gentlemen encouraged me to explore a new experience. Which involved seven shots of tequila, salt and lime over the course of an hour. I had never consumed much alcohol previously, so I can safely say (and those with a similarly storied past are now shaking their heads): it was terrible.

I became deathly ill. I called my then girlfriend (now wife) and complained about bed-spins. ‘Put your foot on the floor, baby.’ I slept through dinner and flew home the next day with the mother of all hangovers, a picture of myself saluting a dog and a years-long aversion to the very smell of limes.

My kids know this story and laugh with me. If I tell them it was a bad idea, and that they should never do it, does that make me a hypocrite? No, it actually makes me a loving father who has walked down the road ahead of them, and who wants to warn them of impending dangers.

That’s a light-hearted example, but it has enormous relevance. It would be frank hypocrisy if I still drank myself silly, but said ‘don’t you kids get drunk!’ I do not. Thankfully, I don’t care for alcohol. (Fool me once, you know….)

If sharing hard-earned wisdom constituted hypocrisy, then we could not warn our children about the value of seat-belts if we ourselves had been injured without them. And a man in prison for a felony couldn’t say to his child, ‘please, follow the law.’ If we always neglected to speak the truth in love because we were once guilty of the thing we hope to prevent, well that would be madness sprinkled with cruelty.

Of course, the most angry charges of hypocrisy are usually leveled at the church. Non-believers frequently call believers hypocrites. And indeed, if we are still intentionally, actively and unrepentantly engaged in what we tell others not to do, then we are hypocrites.

However, if by hypocrisy they mean ‘he says he is a Christian but he used to do terrible things,’ then what’s at work is not a lie, but the regeneration of a soul through reflection and wisdom, powered by God’s grace. And if that’s hypocrisy, then I guess you’ll have to count me in too.

Because mistakes and poor judgment are universal among humans. Whereas, the willingness to break the cycle, and risk the charge of hypocrisy, is an all-too-rare mark of developing goodness. And sometimes, even greatness. It is also an essential part of preparing out young, whether for summer vacation or the whole of life itself. And a safe-guard against future tequila poisoning incidents, to boot.

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