You Can’t Fault Them For Your Hypocrisy

The author Rinker Buck (he has an amazing book called Life on the Mississippi where he travels the entire river in a homemade flat boat) remembers vividly what would happen when his father came home. We talked recently about what kind of feeling the sound of a parent at the door springs up for you. Well for him, it was partly fear–because he knew he was going to get punished, usually for unfair, contradictory reasons.

“Ah shit, Rinker, my father would say,” he writes. “‘You said ‘shit’ in front of your mother.” Why this was a problem was hard to understand for a child. “Dad, I say ‘shit’ in front of you,” Rinker remembers replying. “You say ‘shit’ all the time. Why can’t I say ‘shit’ in front of Mother?” His father’s explanation didn’t exactly clear things up. “Ah shit, son,” he said. “It’s different. You said ‘shit’ in front of your mother. Go upstairs and pick out your belt.”

A version of this scene appears not just in the classic movie A Christmas Story but also in the memories of many people from that era. It’s still happening in its own way in houses all over the world. We hold our kids to a standard that we don’t hold ourselves to. We fault them for things they learned from us!

In one sense, the cruelest part of Rinker’s story is not actually the corporal punishment (although as we’ve talked about, it is unacceptable). The hypocrisy is the cherry on top. The illegitimacy of it makes it all the more shameful. Saying: Yeah, it’s different when I do it. Saying: Yeah, I know this makes no sense, but I’m doing it anyway, and I can because I’m the boss.

We have to do better than that. Because it’s not different for us. And arbitrary, inconsistent authority is unjust and unfair and wrong.

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