Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2004 / 12 Tishrei, 5765
Authenticity vs. hypocrisy
Yom Kippur, the day Jews set aside to atone for the sins of the past year, was observed this weekend. It's the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar, and for the religious, it means long hours in synagogue. I asked a friend of mine whether he was planning to go to services. Yep, he said, looking pained. "My mother would have a heart attack if I didn't."
My friend is isn't very religious. But for one day a year, he's willing to pretend to be, to please his mom. And that's not such a bad reason.
There's almost nothing our society values more than authenticity. Be yourself. Keep it real. Don't sell out. Those are the instructions we give young people, and for the most part they're good advice.
But it turns out there are worse things than insincerity. Hurting your mother's feelings, for one. Is it hypocritical for a non-believer to spend nine hours in temple pretending to atone? Of course it is. Just as it's phony to smile when you're in a bad mood, or to say "thank you" for something you didn't really want. Almost everything considerate is at least partly synthetic. But it pleases other people. And that's the point.
Hypocrisy is the price we pay to live in a pleasant society. Often it's the least we owe our parents.
So the next time someone tells you to keep it real, remember: authenticity is overrated. It's great to be yourself, as long as yourself is worth being. Otherwise, pretend to be someone better.
In time, you may become that person.
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