Fake It Till You Make It: In Praise Of Going Through The Motions

Jul 9, 2020

Teacher: I have heard that you sometimes use the saying, “Fake it till you make it,” when teaching your students about the pursuit of virtue.

Gibbs: That is true.

Teacher: In a time when the church has such remarkable problems with hypocrisy, I find it rather disturbing you would exhort your students to fake virtue.

Gibbs: Would you say that hypocrisy is the church’s biggest problem today?

Teacher: Yes.

Gibbs: Would you say it’s a problem you have?

Teacher: I’m very aware of my temptations to hypocrisy and I’m working on it.

Gibbs: I am sure that is true of everyone else, as well. I believe Christians today have bigger problems than hypocrisy, though.

Teacher: What’s a bigger problem than hypocrisy?

Gibbs: Ignorance.

Teacher: That might be true, but it does not justify teaching students to be fake.

Gibbs: When I tell my students to “Fake it till you make it,” what exactly do you think I am telling them to fake?

Teacher: Being righteous, being virtuous.

Gibbs: And what does it mean to “fake being righteous”?

Teacher: It would mean talking as though you love God more than you do. It would mean presenting yourself to your parents, teachers, and pastors as though you were a kind, obedient, industrious young man even though you’re nothing of the kind.

Gibbs: I wouldn’t want my students to do that. However, “Fake it till you make it” is a rhyming proverb and it is often the case that rhyming proverbs stretch the meaning of one significant term.

Teacher: Can you give me an example?

Gibbs: “Happy wife, happy life,” or, “Snitches get stitches.” Snitches rarely get stitches. They’re more likely to get dead frogs left in their lockers, but, “Snitches get dead frogs left in their lockers” is neither a proverb, nor does it sound very clever.  

Teacher: I see.

Gibbs: When people say, “Fake it till you make it,” the word “fake” does not refer to the sort of hypocritical show you described.

Teacher: What makes you say that?

Gibbs: Hypocrites aren’t interested in becoming the things they pretend to be. Pharisees don’t want to be righteous. They just want others to think them righteous because of the material benefits a righteous reputation offers. Hypocrites aren’t interested in “making it,” because “faking it” gets them everything they want from the real thing.

Teacher: So, what does “fake it” mean when you tell students to “Fake it till you make it”?

Gibbs: “Faking it” refers to going through the motions. The unrhymed version of “Fake it till you make it,” at least so far as becoming virtuous is concerned, would be something like, “Go through the motions of righteousness until you become righteous.”

Teacher: God cares about the heart, though.

Gibbs: Yes, He cares so much about the heart, He has given us the ability to control our hearts with our bodies.

Teacher: But the body follows the heart.

Gibbs: The heart follows the body, as well, which is what CS Lewis meant when he said the joys of heaven are “an acquired taste.” Dostoyevsky once said, “Man is a creature that can get accustomed to anything,” which means he can get accustomed to being good, although being good is probably the hardest thing in the world to get accustomed to. Christ teaches, “Where your money is, there your heart will be also,” which means that moving your heart is often as simple as moving your money, although we prefer our money to stay put in our pockets.

Teacher: Christ also teaches, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”

Gibbs: But He’ll take take a reluctant one. Giving cheerfully takes practice. A man might have to begrudgingly put his tithe in the plate for half his life before he learns to like it. We cannot refrain from doing good things until we feel like it. No one ever feels like being virtuous, which is why a good man is hard to find. Virtue always involves a painful triumph over the temptation to please yourself.

Teacher: That sounds like works righteousness.

Gibbs: No, it sounds like righteous works, which are very controversial among modern Christians, who ignorantly prefer the world’s emphasis on feelings to the traditional Christian emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Teacher: So, what would faking virtue look like?

Gibbs: Going through the motions. Getting up early to pray, even though you don’t feel like it. Tithing and giving to the poor, even though you don’t feel like it. Reading your Bible, even though you don’t feel like it. Keeping silent, even though you don’t feel like it. Quitting Instagram, even though you don’t feel like it.

Teacher: But St. Paul teaches that if a man does these sorts of things “but has not love,” they profit him nothing.

Gibbs: And Christ teaches, “Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his friends,” but He doesn’t say we have to do it with a smile on our faces. That’s why Christ’s greatest act of love was prefaced with the prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Teacher: Then what is love?

Gibbs: “Love is patient, love is kind…” and we judge someone patient and kind because of what they do.

Teacher: Then how is it possible to give “all I have to the poor” and not have love?

Gibbs: I have no idea.

Teacher: And if one of your students gave all he had to the poor, but had not love, and he came to you for advice on how he could gain love, what would you tell him?

Gibbs: Pray, then try again.

Teacher: You’re not being serious.

Gibbs: What would you tell him to do?

Teacher: I would tell him to open his heart to God.

Gibbs: And if he asked you, “How do I do that?”

Teacher: I would say it’s really not something you do. It’s something God does to you.

Gibbs: So, what should he do while he is waiting around for God to open his heart?

Teacher: Go to school, do his homework, eat his dinner, wash the dishes.

Gibbs: What if he doesn’t feel like doing those things?

Teacher: I mean, he’s got to get into college. He’s got to eat.  

Gibbs: So whether he feels like eating or not, he needs to go through the motions of eating.

Teacher: I suppose.

Gibbs: But man doesn’t live by bread alone. If keeping our bodies alive sometimes means going through the motions, the same is true of our souls. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” isn’t just a suggestion that lovesick women should bake pies. Any human being who learns to control his appetites has learned to control his spirit, too. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” Forcing yourself to do good deeds when you don’t want to is simply what humility means. The man who believes his feelings are more important than his duties has no humility. Anyone who waits around for good deeds to become easy will wait forever. The only alternative to “Fake it till you make it” is to allow “I don’t feel like it” to be a legitimate excuse for not doing something. The only alternative to going through the motions is doing nothing.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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