Lead change like a hypocrite. You are one.
Hypocrisy on a grand scale.
In the Second impeachment trial of Donald Trump following the 2021 storming of the Capitol building, democrats and republicans presented a number of arguments for and against convicting the former president of incitement of insurrection. It was a politically delicate moment of Republicans, and most of the arguments against conviction centered on the costs of a trial and the harm it would do to the already divided country.
The right-leaning media used a different approach.
Hypocrites! they accused those in favor of conviction.
What about the looting that took place during the Black Lives Matter protests?they asked.
What about the democrat-led protests of Brett Kavenaugh?
Fox News and other media struck hard, posting montage videos of House Democrats of doing the very things they accused Trump of: of inciting violence, even committing acts of violence.
The thing is, the media had a point. Just the wrong point.
Yes, some member of Congress may have just been overtly, disgustingly, shockingly, flamboyantly hypocritical (I hear you scoffing in disbelief. What do you mean a politicians words do not match their actions!?). Does that mean that they were wrong in condemning Trump for similar behavior? No. For the interest of preventing, explaining, and responding to the situation at hand–at that time the possibility that a President was inciting a mob– their hypocrisy had absolutely no bearing. None. Zero relevance.
Daily hypocrisy: I’m guilty and so are you
Guilty. I commit regular acts of hypocrisy, and these are most readily apparent in my interactions with my spouse. We are working from home and raising our (as of this writing) seven-month-old daughter. The situation, while offering an enviable opportunity for connection with our daughter, means that we need to balance both of our jobs with caretaking duties.
It provides fertile ground for acts of hypocrisy.
Fortunately, my partner has an uncanny ability to point these out. Let me give you an example:
Yesterday I had slept poorly, like so many nights with a baby, and my mood was crotchety. My partner and I have come up with an elaborate schedule so that both of us can work. We had a difference of understanding on who was working when. Partner did not tell me she was expecting me to take over for an hour and instead acts in a huff, banging things around the pots and pans a little louder than usual and not making coffee, which just happens to be the part of breakfast I look forward to most*. I point the huffiness, there is an argument, and eventually, it comes out that she is upset because I did not take over when I was supposed to.
*Put your swords away: Some days I am making the breakfast and she is with the baby, and some days I am with the baby and she is making the breakfast. The reason for this has more to do with me having a well-developed but tragically narrow skill-set in the kitchen than the mindless reproduction of oppressive gender norms.
Hours later during Dad’s care-taking time, the baby is tired. The baby sleeps either attached to me in a carrier on a walk or in the bed. Earlier I had said I would go on a walk. Exhaustion hits. I want a bed. Partner, unaware of the change of heart, says “I thought you were going on a walk”? I hear “Can you please get out of my hair” and also “I don’t care about your tiredness”. I get into a passive-aggressive huff. I trip over the blocks and roughly scoop them to the side with my foot. I dramatically strap the carrier to my waist and exclaim No, it’s fine–have your peaceful moment!
After a good deal of huffing along with a great deal of patient questioning by Partner, I manage to actually communicate that I wasn’t tired before but now I am on the verge of collapse and would like to stay home instead of going on the walk.
Partner points out the blatant hypocrisy: “You got mad at me earlier for not communicating, and then you don’t communicate with me!”
What happened next is what makes our household different than the Capitol:
Pause. Big Pause.
Was I being a hypocrite? I feel a pang of shame. I check the facts: Brain, is that right?
Yes, says my brain. Obviously, you are being a hypocrite.
It was hypocritical of me to accuse Partner of lack of communication and passive-aggressive behavior and then just hours later do the exact same thing. And, adds my brain, you’re acting like a kindergartner.
Queue Diffusion protocols. I admit my mistake, ask for forgiveness, forgiveness is granted after an “I told you so”-esquee laugh. Hugs. Joy. Harmony.
Now, like the right-wing media, my partner also had a point, and she had the right one.
A change-maker’s guide to hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is a powerful weapon. When used as a roadblock for change, it casts doubt on credibility, and if we let it, allows its user to go about their business as usual. Appeal to hypocrisy and the status quo are friends, and the status quo won’t help you create a better workplace, a more trusting environment, a better society.
Now, I am not saying hypocrisy is not important to keep in mind, or that we should ignore it, or put it in a closet, or hate it. On the contrary, it can be very useful to point our hypocrisy for the following reasons:
1) To highlight a systemic dilemma or tension that others may be facing also
2) To help others relate to a current difficulty by comparing it to a previous one
3) To provide a basis for comparing and contrasting two different situations to arrive at a plan of action.
For those of us in the business of trying to make things better (this may or may not include politicians), hypocrisy is par for the course.
What can you do to manage change like the hypocrite you are?
When you are the Hypocrite:
1.Practice radical acceptance:
It can be frustrating, disorienting, embarrassing to be a hypocrite. Now, repeat after me: You will contradict yourself. You will violate your own rules. You will be a hypocrite.**
Radical acceptance is the practice of fully embracing an idea, down to your very core. When we radically accept something, we accept it all the way, without scruples, in mind and body. Radical acceptance of the way things are is a good foundation for most effective problem solving, and it makes you feel better, to boot. [link: https://hopeway.org/blog/radical-acceptance]
**(By the way, I am not saying you should break the rules. A judge who sentences people to jail for murder and then murders someone is still a murderer. Pointing out that they are also a hypocrite might fall on deaf ears and also please be careful when accusing murderers of being hypocrites)
2.Embrace the subsequent emotions.
Radically accepting that you have committed an act of hypocrisy is likely to generate emotions. Being criticized about anything can be hard. But many societies hold a special contempt for hypocrites, and so most of us will feel bad when called out.
Emotion to watch out for: Shame or Guilt.
See this post by Dr. Laura Schenck on effective ways to deal with shame and guilt. https://www.mindfulnessmuse.com/dialectical-behavior-therapy/apply-opposite-action-to-guilt-and-shame
3. Focus on addressing the issue at hand.
When we talk about hypocrisy, the issue at present is always more relevant than the issue in the past. Hypocritical action always occurs around a problematic behavior–something that is seen as not quite right and could be better. Understanding the causes of the problematic behavior is what is needed to make things better. Adopting a problem-solving focus also makes it easier to process the emotional aspects of hypocrisy so you can move on.
Sure, it may be relevant to do a deep dive at some point to understand the nuances (see Point 3 below) and inform current problem-solving strategies. For example, if I am constantly blabbering on about people listening to loud distracting music in the office, and then turn on the music full blast on the 4th of July [FINISH ME]. The issue here is that I have failed to understand the motivators for listening to music and have been grossly insensitive to Frank in Accounting. The lack of understanding has led to me committing an act of hypocrisy.
4. Check the facts
Compare and contrast. In what ways are you being a hypocrite? In what ways not? Often, diving in to understand the chain of events around acts of hypocrisy is the key to understanding how to problem solve.
5. Take corrective action.
When you have a better idea of the drivers of your own hypocrisy, have considered the end goal, and practice acceptance of your hypocrisy and its emotions, then you are in a much better position to take action.
When someone else is the hypocrite:
How about when you are on the receiving end?
1. Don’t rush to judgment.
Judgement-labeling a person or action with a value statement–is a natural response to hypocrisy. It is easy to judge hypocrites or label them as silly, or evil, or lazy, or idiots, or any number of other things. The thing is, all of these labels make problem-solving more difficult. Plus, chances are, the person being hypocritical isn’t aware of it.
Moving to non-judgment is not easy. Part of the reason hypocrisy is so often used to inspire emotions in politics is because it sets off alarm bells in our brain related to fairness, which in turn triggers anger (and specifically [WORD FOR ANGER RELATED TO FAIRNESS]. So don’t expect reacting this way to be easy, especially at first.
2. Accept the emotions.
Emotion to watch out for: Indignation
Indignation is anger at a perceived injustice. Acts of hypocrisy are disruptive because they seem unfair. They make us ask, Why you and not me? But while the emotional response may be reasonable, natural even, responding to it directly will likely just make things worse. That’s because a typical response to indignation is to seek justice (read: getting even). Getting even is a questionable foundation for problem-solving, the premise of the movie Kill Bill being a possible exception.
3. Stick to what matters
If someone who accuses others of poor communication is also a poor communicator, the hypocrisy there is just a detail, and probably an irrelevant one. Focusing on addressing their poor communication, rather than their hypocrisy, is a surer path to actually improving their communication.
In other words, as with many human interactions, we should be mindful of our goals!
4. Stick to what is effective.
On a related note to sticking to what matters, stick to what is effective. In terms of getting what you want, it is likely more effective to calmly engage with others in dialog than to throw tomatoes at them screaming Hypocrite! Hypocrite! over and over.
5. Confront the hypocrisy itself only if and when it is effective to do so.
Whether or not you should bring up hypocrisy itself really depends on the circumstance. In an emotionally charged moment, talk of hypocrisy can add fuel to the emotional flame.
Have you experienced hypocrisy lately, either as the giver or receiver? Let us know what you think!