June is Pride Month, which means lots of great festivals and conferences happening all over – which also means public speakers galore! Activists, community leaders, presenters, facilitators, influencers, bloggers, vloggers, oh my! People will travel from all over to hear and be heard, to see and be seen.
Activist spaces and conferences especially tend to be great sources of information, where attendees are inundated with content. From seminars to workshops to group discussions, the content at these kinds of events tends to have serious ethical implications and raise awareness of critical cultural issues. These environments encourage and enable the sagest and most educated among us to share their wisdom, and elevate our communities in a myriad of ways.
Unfortunately, conferences also tend to attract egoists and hypocrites who relish being in the position of relative power that public speaking can create. Hopefully none of the speakers at your next event are exhibiting those behaviors, but we need to remain aware of the possibility, and sensitive to the ways these behaviors can be damaging to the event and to our wider communities.
Hypocrisy erodes confidence
Perceived hypocrisy is incredibly toxic, serving to undermine any content that the presenter associated themselves with. Suspicion that the way a presenter conducts their personal life is at odds with what they are encouraging in their seminars often leads an audience (understandably!) to discredit everything being presented, even when it might be good information.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt (sorta?)
Before we can deal with the hypocrites, it is important to separate our concern for the perceived toxic behavior of the presenter from the content of any arguments or information they are presenting.
Allowing a presenter’s hypocrisy to distract us from dealing with any merit or fault contained in their arguments would be doing us all a disservice. A toxic and hypocritical speaker may well have good insights! They may also be simply parroting good arguments that they heard from more reliable sources in an attempt to bolster their own social influence. We certainly wouldn’t want to allow any of those good arguments to be tarnished by our distaste for the behavior of the person who happens to be uttering them at the moment.
Of course, the opposite is true as well: charismatic non-hypocritical speakers are not necessarily any more insightful or correct, and their arguments should be subjected to just as much objective analysis.
Hypocrisy must be challenged
None of the above is meant to imply that hypocrisy should go unchallenged. Quite the opposite! Once we have realized that the arguments made by a toxic presenter must be answered on their own, we can turn our attention to the toxic behavior itself.
Presenters certainly have an obligation (as we all do) to strive to be as free from hypocrisy as possible. Public speakers have a greater onus of responsibility due to exercising their social privilege to act as moral authority, and have a duty to the community to be above reproach with regard to what they are speaking about. At the very least, they should be honest and upfront about their own failings, and actively working to correct them.
It is important to be vigilant, and to recognize and hold accountable public speakers who are consistently advocating moral positions that they do not appear to be following in their personal lives. Continuing to give people who display a pattern of hypocritical behavior a platform can lead to community corruption, as more people realize that the behavior has gone unchecked. Communities will experience dramatic fractures and perhaps even dissipate completely when such toxicity persists.
Conversely, fairly challenging toxic behavior, especially from the people who most loudly represent our communities, will be better for everyone. Challenging toxicity will attract greater participation and healthier perspectives to the forefront, benefiting us all.