March 2017

Integrity and its opposite – hypocrisy

Integrity and hypocrisy play out in all aspects of societal life; in politics, business, religion and even sport, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.
BY Clare Condon SGS
Recently when I was interviewed as part of the commemoration of 150 years of Rosebank College, in Sydney, I was asked, “Has longevity of an institution anything to do with integrity?”
This question invited me to reflect on the significance of integrity and its opposite – hypocrisy, in how individuals and institutions relate and survive, or not, in a changing and complex world over a period of 150 years, or even 2,000 years. Integrity and hypocrisy play out in all aspects of societal life; in politics, business, religion and even sport.
In the March 13 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, Tim Dick wrote an opinion piece about hypocrisy in politics. He wrote: “…hypocrisy shouldn’t be the slur it still pretends to be, given how widespread it is in Australian life and how necessary it is to political productivity. The practice of saying one thing and doing or voting for another is endemic, in politics and life, yet there is both good and bad hypocrisy”.
But is there good and bad hypocrisy? Or is hypocrisy an attitude and action that continually gnaws away at the fabric of a society, if it is not exposed for what it is? I believe that to argue for good hypocrisy is a contradiction in terms.
Tim Dick was not arguing in this vein, but he was putting before the community its own practices of hypocrisy, and often its unreflected contradictions; as one example he put forward: “landlord parents despairing for their children unable to rent, work and save their way onto a home of their own – yet happily buying up investment properties and deducting the income losses along the way to second, third, fourth property riches”.
I think that such a simple example challenges us to consider our own stance on many personal and societal issues, as well as the stances that society’s various institutions take. Do I do as I say? Does the institution do what it proclaims? Does an institution stand up to scrutiny when its actions are examined? If not, it will struggle to survive, let alone prosper.
I think longevity can assist us in our understanding of institutional integrity. By such a statement, I do not mean that every short-lived enterprise lacks integrity. Many ventures are simply meant to be short-term. They achieve their goal successfully. However, some ventures collapse very quickly, because they falter at the integrity test.
Look at the lack of longevity in Australian politics in recent years. Leaders of political parties, and therefore Prime Ministers, have come and gone. There can be many explanations put forward for this phenomenon. I think one particular problem in both the political arena and in society is that hypocrisy takes hold under many guises. Self-aggrandisement, self-interest and institutional win-at-all-costs often override integrity and right judgement on many fronts. The populace sees hypocrisy for what it is and so shuns both individuals and institutions that consistently compromise their stated values for self-gain, or for other less lofty reasons.
Here in Australia, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has exposed the lack of integrity of many institutions, church and otherwise. Such institutions and individuals seem not to have lived by the dictum of integrity! Other insidious self-protective attitudes have compromised their fundamental beliefs.
If these institutions are to reclaim their credibility and integrity, they need a reformation that drives to the heart of their stated purpose, which will drive out hypocrisy and restore integrity. Only then can ongoing longevity be sustained.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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