Tag Archives: long term

How to Make Friends (Good Ones): Tell The Truth

do-what-is-right-not-what-is-easyMost people when facing a decision  are intelligent enough to know exactly which is the right path to take. By “right path”, generally, I mean the one that will lead to long-term happiness. The reason they don’t take that path is because it’s often the harder one, the one requiring greater effort, greater cost.

That’s how lies are born. Being honest about anything (from small to big) often requires upsetting the comfortable peace between you and another person. In the moment, that cost might not seem worth paying, but over time, it adds up… Your brain gets desensitized to lying. White lies turn into major lies to strangers, to loved ones, to yourself. That’s the argument Sam Harris makes in his book Lying. It’s a short book that argues for complete honesty. I agree with that ideal, and have improved dramatically over the past several years on this front.

Here are some examples of white lies (and grey ones) from top of my head, just to give you an idea of what kind of enemy we’re up against here:

  • Passing pleasantries: Smiling warmly when you are indifferent towards a person, or worse, actually don’t like them.
  • Over-complimenting: Telling people they are great when are just okay. This reminds me of Charles Bukowski (from his book “Women”) talking about coming across a poet who he thought was actually not terrible like most others he met, but he couldn’t tell him just that because most people wouldn’t take “not terrible” as a compliment.
  • Physical attributes: Lying about your age, weight, height, shoe size, penis size, breast size, etc, although they are methods with which you don’t have to lie as the enlarged breasts with proven results.
  • Sex: Lying about how many partners you slept with, had relationships with, loved.
  • To children: Lying about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus.
  • Reasons to not hang out: Saying “I’m tired” when you’re going out with someone else, or saying “I have other plans” when you’re tired and just want to stay in.
  • Reasons for breaking up: Stringing things along (for weeks, months, years) with half-truths, instead of just saying: “Hey, it’s over.”

There are much more, but you get the idea. These are all common lies, and are easy to justify as they appear harmless in the moment. But they are not harmless. The main argument for not lying that speaks to my values is the following… Telling a lie (small or big) misses an opportunity to build a closer relationship. I found this to be very true in my own life, that telling the truth about something that most people lie about makes for a better friendship and a closer connection (even with a stranger). The truth revealed could be about sex, personal flaws, physical attributes, controversial opinions, etc.

Here’s the tricky thing though. Telling the truth has to be done artfully. You have to have good conversational skills. Otherwise, you just come off as a rude asshole, and instead of building a closer connection with someone, you push them away. This is a tough one for an introvert like myself, who spends far more time reading, writing, and programming, than I do talking to real-life human beings. But, on the bright side, I’ve long ago realized that I don’t have much to lose. We’re all going to be dead soon, might as well play the game to the best of our ability, without paralysing doubt and hesitation.

Let It Go: The Incentive to Resolve Conflict

In academia, in politics, in life, I often see two intelligent adults build a rift over a disagreement (large or small), fail to resolve it, and continue for the rest of their life with the rift in place.

It’s ego. It’s human nature. But it makes life more difficult. My advice (to myself and others) is to always let it go no matter what. Linger in the muck of anger for a few days, take a few naps, and then patch up the damaged relationship in whatever way that it will no longer be an anchor on your mind. The weight of conflict can take away the freedom to enjoy this short life and to form meaningful friendships along the way.

In politics, shallow bickering seems to be the modus operandi. Somehow it has become a commonly accepted notion that conflict helps win elections. Showing what someone else did badly is more effective than showing what you did well. Perhaps that might be the case in politics, but I still hold out hope for the personal interactions of regular human beings. There are very few conflicts I can imagine that cannot be resolved through a little swallowing of pride. It might hurt for a day, a week, a month, but it will make life more enjoyable, more productive, and more meaningful in the long term (years, decades).

I’m often reminded of the Borat clock radio “great success”:

There will always be someone with a clock radio that you can’t afford. Let it go.

Dysfunctional Government is Honest Government

boehner-and-obama-dysfunctional-governmentI was listening to CSPAN which luckily does not feel the need to “entertain” and thus provides some of the most objective coverage of how the sausage is made in our government.

Two guests were on, discussing tax reform. One was from a “conservative think tank” and the other from a “progressive organization”. They were making their points clearly and intelligently but going right down the line in terms of the standard boilerplate fiscal arguments associated with their respective party.

It struck me at some point that competition of ideas is exceptionally important to the checks and balances of our government. Moreover, the quality, logic, and reasonableness of the ideas is not what’s important. The most important part is that there is a significant group of people who genuinely stand (almost dogmatically) behind that idea.

In defending and idea, this group of people will search out every little problem about the opposition, and thus keep the opposition as honest as possible.

Sure, creationism might seem like an absurd infringement on the very foundation of science, but in the long-run it will keep evolutionary research honest by limiting the scope of their claims, and sharpening their arguments. That’s an extreme example. Most example are more subtle, like the moral and economic arguments over tax policy.