I think our society too often celebrates the wrong things. And because of this, we humans are too often pursuing the wrong things. By wrong, I simply mean stuff that will not maximize flourishing, and may, in fact, militate against it. Which all leads to my appearance here today: I want to celebrate your candor, a vital right thing that you have demonstrated since the first day I met you.
Now, most everyone will nod their heads in agreement, Oh yes, being honest is so important. Crucial. Gotta do it. But then they will proceed to behave quite counter to this “obvious” ideal. Aside from a few truly malevolent actors, I think this discrepancy between words and actions is due to an incorrect prioritization, not actual falseness in supporting the value of truth.
Take a meet-up with a friend that begins the same way all such meet-ups begin, “How are you doing?” Let’s pretend this isn’t merely small talk, that the friend has infinite time and truly craves a real answer. You can (a) highlight (with perhaps some truth shading) the things that seem to enhance your status – Damn, she is smart! Damn, she is cool! Damn, she is impressive! – or (b) nakedly highlight the things that might reduce your status. Now, being smart, cool, or impressive isn’t a wrong thing, but the pursuit of status over all else is. It’s this attitude of more, more, more just because it looks good that drives (a) over (b). Nearly everyone wants to be truthful, but only about certain types of truths.
You are not everyone. In our very first meeting, the time of zero credibility when people are most tempted by (a), you told me that you were so nervous to speak with xxxxxxxxx you took speech lessons. Unreal. Nobody does this! And contrary to the fears of the (a)-pickers, (b) is often the more status-enhancing choice; confidence demonstrated through vulnerability generally trumps bragging about accomplishments.
Still, remember that the whole status game is kind of a sham. So it’s nice that (b) may play better for it, but that doesn’t change the game’s vapidness. Which is why the more important outcomes of (b) are (1) kinship with others and (2) self-growth.
I don’t doubt that tremendous connection happens by sharing life’s highs with another. However, I also think that tremendous connection happens by sharing life’s lows, uncertainties, doubts, fears, pains, or irrationalities. This type of candor is a blaring notification to your counterpart that, for at least a few moments, we can all suspend the status game and be real. Everyone is going through something. Everyone is filled with insecurities. And it’s in these rarely exposed dark places that a special kinship can be formed.
I have this theory about therapy that none of my friend therapists have disagreed with: 80% of therapy’s value comes from getting to be honest with another. The mere act of speaking aloud reveals both blind-spots and answers that are otherwise invisible. You can capture this benefit by paying $150/hr … or by frequently choosing (b).
The kids these days are smart. They see this status game and think they’ve found a hack. By pushing, for some good reasons, what was once considered “weakness” as “strength” – It’s ok to not be ok – (a) and (b) have morphed into one where being ever less ok is deserving of ever more status.
Of course much of this is faux honesty, so it’s not truly (b), but even if the revelations about extreme anxiety and nightmares of oppression were 100% real, many of candor’s gains are lost if one basks in self-pity. Yes, you may be honestly feeling sorry for yourself, and yes your melancholia may be “justified,” but nobody should actually want to feel this way. So sure, honestly admit what you are feeling, just please resist the temptation to take pride in anti-flourishing. Kevin Durant’s (an NBA player) mother has another way of saying this:
He was allowed to cry but not to whine. If you get hurt, Wanda taught him, you should express that pain, no matter what anybody else says. Crying is natural. It is the truth. But whining is something else — a manipulation, an attempt to extend your pain to get something you didn’t earn.
You understand this concept so well. Of all the stunningly honest things you’ve told me, complaint was never present. And to be clear, these issues were big enough that some level of complaining would have been entirely reasonable. But no, not for you. Matter-of-fact admissions of struggles without the customary demand for pity. Rarefied air.
I can say holy hell you’ve had quite a year. (And I only know this because you were so routinely a (b)-picker with me.) Dealing with any one of the things you dealt with, from jobs to houses to relationships, would have been enough to paralyze the best of us. I’m entitled to coast just a bit and avoid doing hard things because I feel so terrible and convincing rationalizations like that. Yet, possible capitulation to such thoughts is time and again admirably defeated by your conviction to act. Again, rarefied air.
And through it all, there you were continuing to play such a significant role in my life. I never have, never will take your work connections and recommendations for granted. I am very happy where I am, and you played a massive role in making that true.
So, thanks for everything, not the least of which is serving as a powerful example of a right way to be.