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Being Honest with Ourselves Is the First Step to Overcoming Our Hypocrisies

by on April 08, 2019 4:30 AM

I was recently driving home from a visit down south and was making pretty good time. I left in the early morning hours when it was still dark out. It was mostly me and tractor trailers on the road for the first few hours. The sun had just started to come up when I saw something that may change me forever.  

As I pulled up into the passing lane, I noticed that the truck in the right lane was full of chickens. Live chickens. They were crammed into the truck, stacked upon each other in small crate-like structures, with the sides open, presumably for air. I noted that my car said the external temperature was 38 degrees. As I looked in horror, I could not believe what I saw next. I was just about to pass the truck when somehow a chicken flew out of the trailer. A live chicken flew out of a truck on the interstate going 75 miles per hour. I don’t need to describe what happened next but I am sure the person in the tan sedan, right behind the truck is also forever changed.  

Even now, weeks later, it brings tears to my eyes.

I immediately called my husband and said “I am never eating chicken again.”He kindly pointed out that the animals that eventually turn into barbecue ribs, steaks, chicken wings and bacon don’t really have a much better fate. Thanks, dear. That wasn’t helpful.

How is it that I consider my beloved dogs to be part of my family but my mouth waters when I walk past those $5 rotisserie chickens in Wegmans prepared foods section? My Facebook friends and I share posts about lost neighborhood dogs and cats but also share recipes on social media that are decidedly not plant based. We judge people in countries who make meals from animals that are domesticated in the U.S., but somehow distance ourselves from the living conditions for “farm-to-table” animals that research has proven to be sentient – the ability to perceive and to feel.

What is this? Is it some kind of personal weakness? Is it a form of disassociation? Because it comes in a package from the grocery store, do we somehow self-protect ourselves from the realities of what we are consuming?

I think the term is compartmentalizing.

The ability to justify and rationalize eating meat at the same time that we call ourselves animal lovers. According to the critics of eating meat, we use the tools of denial, disassociation and distance to make decisions and act in ways that conflict with our purported core values.

I think it is our inherently flawed and complicated human nature. We are perfectly imperfect. Sometimes we do things that just don’t make sense. We are human.

The human capacity to have internal conflict with our values and our behaviors is called moral hypocrisy by social scientists. In our hearts, we place value on certain things but through some pretty complicated psychological processes, we justify our behaviors in opposition to those values.

It is people who drive and fly to share their message of being good stewards of the environment.

It is people who vote for politicians whose personal behaviors are abhorrent because “the other candidate was worse.”

It is people who support abortion rights but then are anti-death penalty — or vice versa.  

It is celebrities who come out for gun control but whose security staff use guns.

It is hate in the name of religion.

It’s judging others for the very things we do ourselves. It’s not practicing what we preach. It is espousing a moral code and then acting in opposition to that moral code. It is hoping that no one will notice. It is justifying and rationalizing and just plain old denial.

It is a reminder that self-reflection and being honest with ourselves is the way to overcome moral hypocrisy. There is power in acknowledgement that it is a process.

I would love to report that since the incident on I-95, I haven’t eaten chicken. I would love to say that my behaviors and decisions since that day have all been in alignment with my value system. What I can say is that I am trying. When faced with decisions, even something as simple as what to buy in the grocery store, I try to make considerations about what it is and where it came from. I try to make my actions and behaviors match my value system.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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