Seed of Hypocrisy : Power of Vulnerability

"He (John Proctor) is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of his time, but against his own vision of decent conduct. These people (the Puritans) had no ritual for the washing away of sins. It is another trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us well to breed hypocrisy among us. Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud."

This quote, from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, was penned in the 1950's and stands as a defining critique against our current humanity. But it doesn't need to be. 

Over the past few years I have been wrestling with the idea and role of apology because, from what I can gather, it seems to be the only ritual we have that can "wash away our sins." Where deep and sincere apologies are present, and where both parties willingly and lovingly choose to lay their faults and mistakes down before another, the sweetest of reconciliation suddenly invades the room, empathy replaces justification, and wounds of separation become battle scars of a beautiful victory. For just as light beats away the darkness, so too does vulnerability erase hypocrisy, trapping it in the darkness from whence it came. 

However, where defensiveness and justification dwell, hypocrisy reigns, enslaved to a life much like Proctor's: feared by many and a fraud to all.

Until the music starts to play.

For the past week or so, in preparation for The Crucible, my Junior English class and I have been researching the life and ideas of the Puritans - the breaking off from the church of England in hopes of religious freedom, their emphasis on hard work, and their unrelenting suppression of emotions and sin. As a wrap up as well as an introduction to the play, we watched the opening scene to Jaws - Chrissie's Last Swim. But before starting the short clip I asked the students, "What role does the music play in this scene?" Then I pressed play.

Even before Chrissie is tugged beneath the water, because of the iconic "duuh-duh" we know something bad is going to happen - that disaster is eminent. Just like life for the Puritans.

"Reading about the Puritans, there should be a sort of "duuh-duh" playing in the background," I said to my students, "Why?"

"Because the conditions we're perfect for disaster," they said. And they're right.

Conditions for the early settlers were extremely harsh. Food was scarce, the weather cold and difficult, and the religious freedom they were hoping to escape from was as distant as their family and friends back in England. To make matters worse, they were expected to live and think and be perfect - because they believed themselves to be like the Egyptians of old, God's chosen people headed to the Promised Land. And God's chosen people don't lust, lose their temper, or envy thy neighbor's land. Because they're God's chosen people.

And as such, they had no need for repentance.

Duuuuh-duh. Duuh-duh. 

As Arthur Miller said, "it is a trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us well to breed hypocrisy among us." Respected and even feared, we have come to regard ourselves as a kind of fraud, and we're terrified of being found out.

Because, "there are aspects to all of us that, if they were exposed to a harsh or unsympathetic critic, would result in sever humiliation and mockery . . . From close up, we are, none of us, reliably impressive. We get agitated, fretful, cantankerous, and panicky.  Under the pressure of events, we shout, slam doors, let out screams, or wails" (via).

We are clumsy and constantly worried about how others will see us, how and where our careers and families are going, and we worry that we may not be loved (or loved the right way), all the while, forgetting to love, give, and think of others. 

Just like the Puritans (duuh-duh), 

It's no surprise, then, that, because of our hypocrisy, we struggle to gain and keep sincere relationships: because we don't quite grasp the importance of vulnerability.

There are moments where the revelation of weakness, far from being a catastrophe, is the only possible root to connection and respect. At points, we may dare to explain, with rare frankness, that we are afraid, we are sometimes bad, and that we have done many silly things. And rather than appalling our companions, these revelations may serve to endear us to them, humanizing us in their eyes, and letting them feel that their own vulnerabilities have echoes in the lives of others.

Vulnerability can be a bedrock of friendship. Friendship properly understood, not just or primarily as a process of admiration, but as an exchange of sympathy and consolation for the troublesome business of being alive.

Why don't we do this? Why don't I do this?

Because swimming naked in deep, dark water is dangerous. Better to stay on the beach and get defensive, to find ways my wife has hurt or failed me so I can quickly cover my inadequicies and truly unimpressive self with excuses and stories.

Fortunately for me though, my wife is a terrible Puritan.

In the midst of my selfish rants, my wife will often take a risk and become vulnerable. With tears in her eyes, she will apologize, and when I don' hear it for what it is, she apologizes again - even for things that aren't completely her fault, and completely disarms the situation. Suddenly, everything changes. Suddenly, my need to be good and perfect and strong seem petty and stupid and completely selfish. Suddenly, instead of moving further away, we come move closer and begin to share and acknowledge the troublesome business of being human, together, neither caring who is right and who is wrong. 

This vulnerability, this willingness and ability to admit fault and seek forgiveness is our "washing away of sins" that keeps us from the vicious pits of hypocrisy. We are all wounded, worried, and damaged. Pretending not to be is mere pretense, and it is a denial of our membership of the human race. A human race full of imperfections and blemishes that are just waiting to be revealed and then forgiven. 

It is something of {major} tragedy that we should spend so much of our lives striving to hide our weakness when it is in fact only upon the dignified sharing of our {failures} that true friendship and love can arise."

Only then, will we no longer hear the music.