Have you ever wondered how certain corrupt businesspeople can keep spouting great, moral words while doing the exact opposite in their behavior? You wonder how they can wax eloquent about the need to give customers high-quality products while they happily substitute inferior quality raw materials to save costs. You wonder: are they insane? Probably not. Yes, they hear voices in their head. But we all do that. The problem is that they’re listening to the wrong ones.
In a New York Times article today, John Tierney discusses the science behind hypocrisy and how we fool ourselves. It seems when we distract our conscious mind, we listen mainly to our “gut” (or our “heart,” depending on how poetic an image you prefer), and we know when we’re doing The Wrong Thing. When our conscious minds are free, however, we use them—to self-justify. When we engage in hypocritical or anti-social behavior, our conscious mind goes to work creating justifications so we believe we’re doing the right thing, even when we aren’t.
In the past several years, I’ve become more aware of my own “heart voice.” When I have a troubling decision to make, or strong ambivalence about a situation, I sit quietly. Actually, my brain is usually shrieking gibberish about how unfair I’m being treated, or about how I don’t deserve what’s happening, or about how I’m an utter and complete failure at life because I missed “9 Down” in today’s New York Times crossword puzzle. So here’s this Shrieking Monster in my head, and I let it rant while putting attention on the middle of my chest. Then when the Shrieking Monster stops to take a breath, I quickly ask, “What should I do in this situation?”
Then I sit. After a few minutes, beneath the Monster comes a little, quiet voice. It’s barely even in words. And it has an answer.
The moment the answer comes, I know it’s the right one for me. It’s almost always the moral thing, the ethical thing, the loving thing, the passionate thing. In some weird way, it’s the answer I already knew was right, but just wouldn’t admit to myself. It took a chat with the Little Voice to bring it to the place where it could be heard over the Shrieking Monster voice.
The Shrieking Monster is the one that usually pushes me to do stupid things. It goads me to yell at people when I’m frustrated, to get petulant and childish when I could be forging alliances, and to beat myself up when I don’t do well, even if I did my best. The Little Voice, though, is my own internal Dear Abby: its advice is excellent, even if its hairstyle could stand some updating.
If you’ve never tried this, give it a shot. Ponder a decision that’s giving you angst. Maybe it’s an ethical quandry, or an issue with a co-worker, or that persistent fantasy about wrapping your boss in duct tape upside down, hanging from the ceiling. Choose something really, really important, like: is it fair that I always have to spend the 3 minutes to type up action items after a meeting?
Sit quietly with the situation. Your Shrieking Monster will helpfully point out how unfair it is that you have to type those action items, how your fingers ache, how it’s probably carpel tunnel syndrome and you’ll be crippled for life, and how you really deserve to be the boss and are just not deeply appreciated. Then sit quietly and listen to the Little Voice behind the shrieking monster. It just might have some good advice.
If it seems reasonable, give it a shot. You might find yourself acting more ethically, more morally, more professionally, and more happily. In other words, you just may find your little voice is the key to acting as—not just aspiring to be—your Very Best Self.
Find the article on hypocrisy at http://r.steverrobbins.com/hypocrisyarticle.