I sometimes wonder if hypocrisy comes from a person’s inability to harmonize the seemingly divergent awarenesses that arise as a result of them experiencing cognitive dissonance. Take for example someone like the segregationist Senator, Strom Thurmond who, despite adamantly advocating against civil rights for Black Americans and pushed for state’s rights to impose segregation, was in a many years long “relationship” with a Black woman with whom he had a child. Having started the relationship when he was 22 and she was only 16, Thurmond had no logical excuse for saying in 1948 when running for President:
“All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force the negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”
And yet, his brain had that capacity to both be involved in the life of his secret daughter, even to the point of financially supporting her, and remain fighting for legislation that would be a disservice to her and the people she was being raised by.
Now, it would be one thing if folks like Thurmond were an anomaly. But, they aren’t. And neither are those of us who continue to support and make excuses for such incongruity. It’s ubiquitous, from the pulpits to politics and from the bedroom to the boardroom, our communities are filled with people who say one thing and do another. Meanwhile, it is readily observable that when some of us, like the proverbial child who dared tell the emperor that he was naked, proclaim that something is amiss, we either draw the ire of the many or are made special so that people can deny their own capacity to acknowledge what they are seeing, by projecting some sense of heightened awareness on those who are doing nothing more spectacular than not lying to themselves for the sake of comfort–which cognitive dissonance of course is not.
In the video below, I am engaged in a conversation with my friend, Dr. Benjamin Teitelbaum, an ethnographer who studies far right movements and author of the book, War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers. Now before I leave you to the video, I want to acknowledge that I do not believe anything I said above is particular to a certain group, but rather, humanity in general. I myself have both said one thing and done another and have persistently supported people who did one thing and said another. In each instance it was because I had to grow in my capacity to sit with the discomfort of paradox long enough to experience the virtue on the other side of cognitive dissonance, which is a greater capacity for human relating.