We all have double standards. Many of them are thoroughly embraceable. For example, we treat children and adults differently, animals and humans differently, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes differently, romantic partners and other people differently. In each case we have two standards that we apply under different conditions.
Of course, that’s not what we usually mean by “double standard,” a pejorative term reserved for having two standards that we apply self-servingly, giving ourselves an advantage that we don’t give to others.
A while ago I noticed that I aspired to a self-restraining double standard. When giving feedback I should hold my delivery to a very high standard but when receiving feedback I should not. I aspire to this double standard because it doesn’t come naturally. When it comes to feedback, I’m better at dishing it out than taking it in. I’m blunt when I’m delivering feedback and hypersensitive when receiving it. Like many people, I’m inclined to be pretty picky about how I’m given feedback, rejecting what isn’t delivered just right. I aspire to the self-restraining double standard to countervail against my self-serving double standard.
Last week I noticed that there seems to be a contradiction between standards for dealing with hypocrisy. On the one hand we’re told that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. On the other hand we’ve got the “tu quoque fallacy” which basically argues that it is wrong to dismiss stones thrown by people in glass houses. As general rules equally applicable to everyone, these two pieces of advice are inconsistent with each other. But if you apply “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” to your stone throwing and the tu quoque fallacy to you as the recipient of thrown stones the pair become another self-restraining double standard. It countervails against our naturally occurring self-serving double standard. In other words, be intolerant of your own hypocrisy but tolerant of others’ hypocrisy, since we tend to prefer it the other way round.
Since our natural tendency is toward hypocrisy, we can commit to some counter-hypocrisy. But commitment and three dollars will buy us a cup of Starbucks coffee. Most guidance is so vague it’s the first thing to fly out the window when we need it. “Turn the other cheek” for example. We subscribe to that except when we’ve just been slapped. To really countervail we need guidance with teeth.
Commitment to a countervailing double standard is a goal but not a plan. Fortunately I do have a plan.
I’m most likely to get hypocritical when someone has ticked me off. Not only does the guidance not to be hypocritical fly out the window its followed out the window by my memories of me ever having done the equivalent of what the offender has done. Knowing I shouldn’t be hypocritical will seem irrelevant if I can’t even remember that I’ve done the equivalent to what the offender has done.
My modest proposal for when modesty is in shortest supply is therefore this: When someone has angered me, I won’t count to ten before responding. Instead, I won’t respond until I have identified a time when I’ve done something similar to what the offender has done. I won’t say, “Ah, there but for the grace of God go I,” I’ll say “There go I, no buts about it, because I remember when I went there.”
After doing this, I might still be angry and perhaps rightfully so. My closest comparable could be much milder than the offending behavior and I’m not advocating glossing over questions of degree. I’m just saying that remembering my closest comparable to the offending behavior is probably the fastest way for me to restore balance and compensate for my self-serving double standard on the fly.