I suspect that if you took a poll, one thing in particular would rate high on a list of character traits least-loved by my generation. It would be hypocrisy.
In junior high and high school especially, going back on one's word was the number one thing that would get you "out." As soon as an adult, parent, mentor, or teacher did something contrary to their declared beliefs and morals, they were no longer listened to, obeyed, or considered. Their opinions weren't of value any more.
My generation--the millennial generation--is the first to grow up where half come from split homes. We are the kids who grew up watching our parents or our friends' parents breaking their promises in a way that affected our daily lives. And having felt the pain of it keenly, we're sick of it.
You can see it in the way that we're now approaching marriage. As my generation seeks a mate, we're not even looking at marriage most of the time. Whereas our grandparents found it natural to marry and stay together, and our parents sought a partner who would be fun and comfortable for a time, we're over it. "We don't need promises to define us." Instead, cohabitation is the norm for millenials.
You can also see it in the way we make social appointments. Compared to the generations before us, we are slower to whip out the calendar and pin down a date, even though our whole life fits so conveniently on our smartphones. Time and again I find myself with friends saying, "We should hang out!" and leaving it there. If we think about it later and decide we have the time, we'll text and arrange it. But we're wary of arranging a meeting if there's a chance we can't make it.
This wariness is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a mark of our generation mostly because we've seen the damage of broken promises, and we're wise to see danger and avoid it. But we can take caution too far. Sometimes we avoid good commitments out of fear. Because that's what it is: fear of our own hypocrisy, our own inability to follow up on everything, our brokenness as people. We know we're not perfect. It freaks us out to think we might hurt others the way we've been hurt by the promise-breakers in our lives.
Because we're afraid of our own hypocrisy, we reject others in whom we see hypocritical tendencies. We're afraid of looking in that mirror and seeing ourselves. Plus when has mankind not taken an opportunity to judge and to separate into Us and Them? Hypocrisy isn't the only imperfection in ourselves that scares us, and we try to feel and look better by avoiding those who remind us of our botched souls.
But when we throw out the hypocrites, sometimes it's the good people we're throwing out. There's nothing like integrity, it's true--but what about the evil man who has a change of heart? The gossip who decides to start keeping her mouth shut? There's a good sort of unreliability, when a person changes from a bad habit to a good. But we're just so afraid of change--and so afraid of hypocrites.
Just because it's hypocritical in trying to the right thing now when we did the wrong thing yesterday doesn't mean we should abandon doing the right thing today. Humans have trouble with change; but change can as equally be good as bad! I am reminded strongly of the show Merlin, where King Arthur outlaws magic because his sister Morgana uses it for evil. Yet, as Merlin is always try to hint, it is not magic that is evil, but the way a person uses it: Merlin uses magic for good just as often as Morgana uses it for harm. A change of character can be for better or worse; but the fact that it is change does not make it either.
There's one place where a bunch of hypocrites gather in one place together, and that's the church. People always ask why the church is full of the most annoying, hurtful, arrogant, and hypocritical people, and it's a good question. The reason, I think, is that the church is not like an honors class, for the best of the best: it's more like a hospital. People who are soul-sick go there to find healing in Jesus' living water. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous: people who are getting better help other people who have just started, and so on. But they all have this in common: they were on the wrong track, and now they're changing course. They're all hypocrites, but they're the kind you want.
If a person who is imperfect does a good thing, is that hypocritical? If you buy a coat you really want even though you don't need it, and then give a homeless man a sandwich, are you being a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical to do a mix of some selfish things and some selfless things? If it is, we're all hypocrites. We all go back on ourselves, contradicting the person we were yesterday. And that's not always a bad thing.