“But,” said Chris, “if I felt one way and acted another, I’d be a hypocrite.” You’ve probably heard from others what I heard from my friend. In our therapeutic society, feelings are thought to be the most essential, most authentic aspect of who we are.
If I’m upset and don’t express it, I’m a phony. I’m sugar coating reality. I’m not being true to myself. If I stuff my true feelings, I’m engaging in unhealthy suppression.
Luckily, George immediately saw through to the core of the issue.
“I don’t think so, Chris,” he said. “Hypocrisy isn’t feeling one thing and doing another. Hypocrisy is knowing what the right thing to do is, but not doing it.”
If I feel scared when I see someone drowning, does that mean I shouldn’t try to help or should I act contrary to my feelings?
Should I blow up at a coworker or family member just because I feel like it? Even if I am totally in the right?
Should I show physical affection to someone when I’m already committed to another?
In each of these cases, going against our feelings is in fact the exact right thing to do. If sometimes we are not to express feelings and not to suppress feelings, then what? We need to find appropriate ways to confess feelings to appropriate people at appropriate times. That’s what many fine self-help books point us toward.
But please, no more nonsense that my feelings must be expressed for me to be authentic and real. Acting against our feelings and doing what is right is what develops true character, holds society together, makes civilization possible, keeps peace among otherwise warring factions, and allows for human flourishing in business, the arts, families and education.
Learning to confess my feelings appropriately and then acting for the benefit of others is a case of knowing the right thing to do, and doing it.