About a year ago I was on a crowded New York City subway on my way back from work listening to The Art of Charm, when I heard something that broke me.
The guest said, “How can you be honest with other people when you aren’t even honest with yourself.” I started thinking about they ways in which I wasn’t being fully honest with myself and my thoughts landed on my calendar. My calendar was a reflection of the intended on doing, but was doing less of every day. I wasn’t exercising before work like it said I did. I wasn’t going to events after work like the app detailed. This misalignment was indicative of larger misalignments in my life, ways in which I was claiming to live one way and was actually living another.
When I got home, I told my wife about the podcast and before I could even finish the story I broke out in tears. Crying is a pretty unusual thing for me so it was surprising to both of us that on this random weeknight a seemingly cliche line made me sob.
My interest in honesty started in 2010 after reading Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton. I experimented with this approach, telling everyone who asked me a question the complete truth. It was an interesting experience, but I found that I was mostly lying to people about not wanting to go out at night because I was tired from teaching and felt like I would lose them as friends or be seen as lame.
In 2014 I read Lying by Sam Harris. This book reinforced the idea that lies, even white lies, are never morally justifiable. I didn’t change my pratice after reading this book in the same way I did after Radical Honesty, but it continued to challenge my beliefs on what to means to be honest.
It wasn’t until I read On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt that I realized why the books on lying didn’t feel like they completely captured my experience. Frankfurt defines bullshit in a way that was helpful to distinguish it from lying:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
I wasn’t lying when I wrote in my calendar that I was going to exercise. I intended on doing it. I just never did. And when I realized that I was keeping those appointments on there to make myself feel like one day I may take action, it was enough to satisfy me. It just wasn’t enough to make me actually do it.
So how have I gotten away from bullshitting myself?
Tony Robbins writes in Awaken the Giant Within that the quality of your thoughts is dependent on the quality of the questions you ask yourself. I started asking myself the question, “Is this bullshit?” I asked other people in my life to ask the same of me.
The answer isn’t always no, but just asking the question has gotten me to a much better place.
Ultimately, the podcast episode shined a light on the places where I was bullshitting myself, which has gone a long way in helping me be a more aligned person.