As the political season heats up, accusations have been popping around like corn. In our letters to the editor section, words like "socialist" and "warmonger" are cropping up. "Bigot" is big. So is "liar."
But the real poison dart is the word "hypocrite." When anyone writes the word, it sounds like they're shouting.
Hypocrites come in for a tremendous pounding in the New Testament, of course, where it's always "woe unto you." Perhaps that's why the charge of hypocrisy carries such a sting in our own day.
The problem is how to deal with hypocrites. You can't toss them to the sharks. About the only response available is disgust and disdain. We can wag our fingers at them.
Yet even then, the satisfaction wears off quickly.
So let me propose another approach one that comes from a comment made 1,500 years ago by a crusty old monk named John of the Ladder, a fellow who lived alone on Mount Sinai. From his solitary post there he came up with 30 steps or rungs to help others ascend the ladder to heaven.
One of those steps dealt with handling hypocrites.
"If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach," John wrote. "For perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they teach."
In other words, the way to handle hypocrites is to listen to them. When a cheater lectures us in church against cheating, when a law-breaker tells us to follow the law, it's best to pay attention and hope their advice sinks in not only sinks into us, but sinks into them as well.
How do you handle a hypocrite?
The same way King Arthur in "Camelot" says a man should handle a woman: with love and a listening ear.
It's not always easy, of course.
Sitting in a congregation while someone at the pulpit drones on about the evils of alcohol, say, when you know the guy has a Bud with his buds at times is not a comfortable situation. Feelings of resentment crop up. You shout, "Woe unto you!"
But that kind of reaction just makes you feel superior.
It doesn't help anybody.
But if you can listen to the thoughts without judging the thinker some good can emerge. Maybe, as John of the Ladder says, his words will eventually worm their way down into his own soul. And if they don't, well, by avoiding any judgment you keep his remarks from becoming toxic in yourself.
Forgiving repentant sinners is easy.
Forgiving hypocrites is hard. Hypocrites play us for fools and take advantage of our better nature. Unmasking a hypocrite can make for a very sour moment in life. But it doesn't have to curdle your mood or destroy your peace of mind.
It's tough not to flare up at hypocrites. It's tough not to hate ourselves when we find ourselves dancing on a double standard.But I think that old monk on Mount Sinai was onto something. Keeping feelings of scorn from cankering your heart is really the only defense we have not only against the duplicity of others, but the duplicity in ourselves.