I’m a hypocrite. A very good one
One afternoon not too long ago, I pulled into a parking spot at a hotel at the exact same time that another guy pulled into the parking spot next to me. This other guy had a giant black pickup truck, way bigger than any vehicle I’d ever considered driving in my life. Huge trailer hitch. Twice my height. A Ford emblem that was bigger than my head. 👶🏾I was thinking: Who the hell would ever drive such a big obnoxious truck? The guy looked at me. He had a big beard, a big belly, and a trucker hat. I was in a small red Tesla, with my daughter, and wearing boots with an unnecessary but very handsome 60mm, sturdy-wood Cuban heel 👢. I’m sure he was thinking the same kinds of thoughts about me. I could tell we were having a reptilian🐊 reaction to one another. As we turned off our engines, we looked each other right in the eye. This was the moment for it all to hang out. Which is when I said: “Nice truck.”
He squinted at me like he was trying to figure out if I was making fun of him. I wondered if he was going to punch me in the face. Then, when he saw that I wasn’t kidding at all, he nodded and said: “thanks”. From the enormous back seat of his enormous truck there emerged one of his seven daughters, who happened to be my daughter’s age. They waved at each other. It turned out they were all on a casual little local family trip, just the same as us. The man and I started talking about our cars and what else we planned to do on the trip, and for the rest of the afternoon, our daughters played with each other at the hotel pool🏊♂️.
I was thinking about that memory recently not because it reminded me of how open and friendly I can be 👹, but because it shows what a huge hypocrite I am👺. I saw that man in his giant truck, and thought: I know exactly who you are, and I don’t like it. He looked like the kind of gas-guzzling, climate-denying, MAGA-loving white man you see cursing at waiters who ask them to wear a mask or screaming at healthcare workers who are doing all they can to save our lives. I had him figured out the second he pulled into that lot. But I said what I said anyway, just to see what would happen, to push my curiosity about his truck into a new place I hadn’t gone before, to break the membrane between us. And, in the process, I learned he wasn’t like how I imagined at all. Perhaps in the same way that he saw me, in my generic electric car and high heels, the picture of obnoxious liberal Silicon Valley (Mexican edition🇲🇽), and felt like he had me totally figured out. If we would’ve just walked away without acknowledging one another, we would have both been wrong about the other, and missed the opportunity to learn something new or connect — as people, as dads — as well as missed the opportunity for our girls to blow off some steam with someone their own age.
I made a quick judgment based on external factors — something I do all day everyday for my job. It’s automatic and if I let it happen, it just keeps happening. I need to introduce some sand in the gears to make me slow down🐌 and not judge. Knowing this about myself, though, is why I also made a quick decision in the moment to contradict that judgment and admit to myself that this guy was nothing like I expected. That I liked him😳. That we had quite a bit in common. Even that big dumb pickup truck, I started to understand it, to even envy it a little. It turned out that in addition to driving his seven girls from place to place, he used it to help people in his community haul their stuff around town, the ultimate act of selfless service. I thought it’d been a vanity thing, but it turned out my wood Cuban heels 👢were way more about just looking good than his truck was. I saw this guy, I applied my prior conceptions, and I turned out to be wrong. That doesn’t mean that I’m throwing out everything I knew before, that I won’t still be suspicious of the next giant white guy I meet in a giant pickup trick. But I am willing to acknowledge my hypocrisy in believing both ideas at once.
Those contradictions? And that confession of mine that I was dead wrong? I call that good hypocrisy.
Good hypocrisy is when you are willing to shift your convictions without putting up a fight, and to be honest about the fact that when you seek new knowledge and perspective, you’re probably going to change your mind🧠, no matter how firmly you believe the first thing you believed. Rationalists call that the “scout mindset” — which, Julia Galef, a prominent rationalist podcaster and author, says can help you “recognize when you are wrong, to seek out your blind spots, to test your assumptions and change course.” We didn’t have Boy Scouts in Mexico 🇲🇽when I was growing up (or maybe I just wasn’t invited), but the scout mindset sounds good to me. The opposite approach, Galef says, is the “soldier mindset,” which encourages you to defend your positions at any cost. (Sound familiar, tech people?) F. Scott Fitzgerald said that it’s the test of a first-rate intelligence to be able to hold two opposing ideas in your head at once and retain the ability to function. I want to get smarter in that kind of way, to seek that kind of intelligence — the kind that just points out how wrong I was previously. Even if how I change makes me look like a bigger and bigger hypocrite every day.
I’ve spent a lot of the pandemic trying to expand the things I’m interested in to really push my curiosity into uncharted territory. To break membranes between adjacent worlds. Yes, there are partitions between your world and what’s on the other side, but those partitions are fragile, and poised to be broken.
Cultivating this new curiosity is leading to conflicting perspectives all the time. It has made me feel very stupid at times, and like a real jerk for thinking what I thought before.
But there’s no reason to beat ourselves up over feeling the need — the desire — to change our minds.
The rigidity of prior conviction is one of the most challenging things in life right now. Firmly holding onto our previously held positions or the belief set of one’s own tribe, no matter the changing circumstances or new evidence. We’re all just so unwilling to contemplate an evolving view of a given situation.
We’re obsessed with conceptual landmarks, these indicators that we think tell us everything there is to know about other people, things, and ideas.
We develop these landmarks but don’t tend to go beyond them, unless there’s something that breaks the membrane. Well, I’m tired of trying to hold onto those old convictions of mine no matter what. I’m exhausted trying to resist the fact that I really know so, so little, and that I’m wrong about everything way more than I’m right. It does no one any good to act otherwise — especially not me. Which is why I’ve been shaking up those assumptions, and seeking new ways to prove myself the world’s biggest hypocrite. Maybe as big as that dumb truck.
Let me give you another example: Recently, I conducted an experiment where I created undercover accounts on TikTok and Instagram to see what it would be like to transform myself into a fashion influencer. What makes a successful influencer? How does the influencer economy work? Where do the opportunities for partnerships come from? How do so many people seem to be making so much money? What made me want to do it is I was seeing and hearing so much about how it was just all these shallow kids with a bunch of time, getting rich by posting bullshit content all day.
It sounded easy and kind of terrible, like the whole thing was savvy brats taking advantage of dumb adults.
I definitely had my mind made up about what was happening there. But it only took a few weeks before I had my mind changed completely about the reality of that ecosystem.
Almost as soon as I started posting, I started getting attacked and bullied with intensely negative feedback. I started getting baited by scams. I stopped focusing my energy on posting, and started taking a more open and curious look around. Sure, there are a handful of people making money💰 there, but it’s mostly this thriving community of young people with a lot of darkness — fending for themselves in this adjacent space that’s kind of hiding in plain sight from adults. There are positive aspects to that community, but there’s also an epidemic of mental health issues. Young people are hurting, and though places like TikTok are exacerbating that hurt in many ways, TikTok, as a community, is also providing more effective support for users than more traditional platforms like Google. An experience like mine on TikTok has absolutely changed how I think about what Gen Z is experiencing on a daily basis, and how Google might respond more helpfully to their needs.
In order to reach that conclusion, though, it was imperative that I check my preconceptions. I had to break the membrane and pass through to a new world so that I could see how things actually are with my own eyes. These mental membranes of ours exist to keep us in place. Sometimes they have a purpose, but often they just contribute to our being siloed off. Once you break a membrane, though, that’s it, it won’t form again. You’ve entered this new world🌏, and you can access it now. You’ve bumped up against a new membrane to a new adjacency. Even if you don’t spend all your time in these new worlds, they’re available to you now. You’ve created a wider base of understanding, a wider pool of potential knowledge, an increased range of potential experiences. I live my life pushing to increase that kind of range. That’s what I did on TikTok. And the results were striking. I went in thinking one thing about the kids on TikTok, and after a month inside had an entirely different idea. It was more than just an evolution of thinking on my part.
It was straight-up hypocrisy. I confess it.
Why does hypocrisy get such a bad wrap? In tech, one of the least common things you’ll ever hear someone say is: “I changed my mind.” Why? Why is this so taboo? Why is there such an absurd premium placed on having it all figured out right away, and being rigidly opposed to new ideas as they surface? What an incredibly childish way to be. Think about scientists and engineers: they test a hypothesis and relish when a hypothesis is wrong as much as they do when a hypothesis is right. Think about artists: pushing themselves to evolve their work with each new effort, always moving forward (even though, yes, a lot of crap is made in the process).
Society reinforces dogged consistency. Think of what we ask of our politicians and business leaders? It’s bizarre. Dogged consistency is, what, a sign that we’re good at ignoring new evidence provided to us from a dynamic and ever-evolving world?
We need to push to change the incentive structure from 👏🏾 when someone is right from the get-go to 👏🏾 when someone arrives at the best idea over time. It is only human to be this wrong all the time. We need to incentivize changing one’s mind — good hypocrisy — rather than punish it.
All of this reminds me of going to church⛪️ when I was a kid. I grew up in Mexico🇲🇽, which means it was Catholic church, which means the idea of sin and guilt were a big part of many sermons and services. In the Catholic church, guilt is acknowledged at scale. Everyone is by default guilty and you go to church to not be guilty. There are norms around it that allow mechanisms to unpack and identify the circumstances that create guilt. No one is perfect. No one is without guilt because of their sin. Everybody does it. They just want you to acknowledge it. The church’s issue isn’t with sinning (unless it’s really bad, like murder; don’t do that), but what you do with that sin, and whether you admit to yourself that you’re guilty. That’s what confession is all about. Go into the confessional, tell the priest what you did, walk out with a lightened conscience and a free mind. I remember that feeling so well, walking down the church steps into the sunlight after mass, looking around, seeing all these adults breathing easier, looking lifted.
It’s the same feeling I get when I admit to myself that I was wrong. And the little priest inside me says: Hector, it’s OK that you changed your mind.
Ahh. That is freedom. The freedom to seek new information, to get smarter, and to change your mind🧠. With today’s diminishing popularity in churches, where do we find the places that we can collectively acknowledge that we are all guilty? That we are all hypocrites? That we are evolving as human beings and therefore might possess thoughts that contradict our previously held convictions. Forgive me, Google, for I have changed my mind. There. I feel better now. I love that feeling. I was not a good Catholic. (Hell 😱🙊, I hated it.) But I am a good hypocrite.
You know who loves my hypocrisy even more than I do? My daughter👧🏽. When we aren’t taking trips to hotel pools, we are, like most families, going to work and school, eating dinner together, and then engaging in a daily battle over bedtime. For the last couple of years, we’ve done this dance where we reach the witching 🧙🏽hour and my little angel👼🏾 transforms into a devil 😈(see: there’s that Catholic upbringing that I still hold onto; how’s that for hypocrisy?) and fights me for at least an hour to go to bed. I’d read at some point that bedtime had to be 9 o’clock at the absolute latest, and we’d been forcing it ever since. Why, though? My daughter was telling me something, that she was wired differently, that this is what she needed to thrive — an hour later in the evenings, an hour later in the mornings. And now that we’ve relented and tried it this new way? Everything is fine. Better than fine. The research was in all likelihood right, and I still believe it, but it was also wrong. For her, at least.
Because, by embracing a little fluidity and challenging the prior rigidity, everyone is happier and healthier now.
Our relationship is better. We don’t waste all that energy fighting. My daughter is calmer. All because I evolved my thinking on this thing about child-raising that I thought had to be true, that I was certain I knew, to accept that something else might be true. I have a better grasp of the resonance of this specific situation as opposed to just the substance of it. Are these two responses to bedtime mutually exclusive? I thought so for a long time. But no. I was quite certain it had to be one way, and now I’m quite certain it has to be another. And now the only thing I’m actually certain about is that I’m probably wrong about both ideas, and there’ll be a third approach soon enough. I am forever finding new ways to be my household’s greatest hypocrite.
So long as it’s not harmful or egregious, hypocrisy, like sin, is part of being a complete human.
Maybe an even better, more interesting, and more engaged human. We need to embrace our contradictions, not just to stay more open but to find our best and truest beliefs and selves.
Last year, I gave a talk called “Contrary to Popular Belief” about some of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years — in particular, about the distance between what people told me I was all my life and who I felt I was. It took many years, many failures, many wrong turns, and many different versions of myself to shed other people’s toxic ideas about me that I’d internalized, and come to my own convictions about who I am, what I believe, and how I should feel about myself. This pandemic response of mine feels like the next evolution. Once you move past your past and know yourself in the present, you can move into uncharted territory with the confidence of being a major hypocrite. To constantly push yourself to break membranes, to explore new worlds, and to question prior assumptions about practically everything. It took decades for me to realize that other people’s ideas about me were not accurate. That they were, in fact, holding me back and stunting the development of my personhood and my mind. Now I’m starting to realize that my own prior convictions about others might be as harmful to me as those older people’s ideas were.
Why are we ever so certain that we know what there is to know? Why wouldn’t we want to push forward in pursuit of greater understanding? The feeling of embracing this kind of acceptance of hypocrisy and contradiction and ignorance…for me, there is no better feeling in the world. It means that anything is possible in terms of your ideas, you just need to go out and have the firsthand experiences. Go see for yourself. Meet people. Visit places. Embrace experiences. Give yourself permission to go somewhere you haven’t gone. Just go there. The moment that you snap out of who you were and what you once believed, you hit warp speed and get out of your own way.
What is the force that you need to break out of the inertia of your prior convictions? What is the force you need to break that membrane of the known? For me, it’s curiosity. But for you, that force might be doubt or desire or courage or an unsatiated hunger for a constantly evolving understanding of your world.
Which is why I want to be wrong again and again and again. There’s nothing to lose. It feels great to be wrong on the way to right. Even — or especially — if that right ends up being wrong, too.
Now ask yourself: Am I willing to admit that I am a hypocrite too? Join me #goodhypocrisy