Earlier this week, I had the good fortune of being interviewed for (what I really hope) is a nice little article in the ‘Life’ section of Uproxx. Leading up to the interview, I was full of excitement; this is the first time that my project might get a notable influx of readers, and, for those who have been following up until now, you’re well aware of just how crucial I believe it is to get as many people as possible actively considering the role that lying plays in their lives. (Generally, my stance is that the more people who commit to uncompromising honesty, the better our world will be, which is the main reason I decided to pursue this project publicly in the first place.) As such, the promise of reaching a bunch of new, interested readers (who might consider what I write enough to be introspective about their own lives) totally made my week.
Alas, all of that hope and excitement was ended pretty much the moment the interview started.
It became clear quite quickly that our agendas were not exactly aligned when, in response to a clarifying statement I made about the potential problem of my white privilege (in the context of me believing we should have higher expectations of others), the journalist responded, “I understand, but that doesn’t mean I absolve you.” …‘Absolve’… (Holy shit.) Yet this was just the beginning.
During the first 20-30 minutes of the interview, I started to realize that the journalist came into the interview expecting me to be a Martin Shkreli level asshole, and he was excited to get the opportunity to vilify me as such. From questions regarding my prejudice against other races (I don’t believe I have any) to subtle criticisms of the tone of some of my past articles (much to his credit, he actually read them), the interview was certainly not going as planned. Quite simply, he knew I was an asshole, and one of his main goals was to determine just how much of one.
Fortunately, over the course of the next hour and a half, as we continued to discuss in great detail my background, the ins and outs of the project, the ways in which my personal relationships have changed, and my primary motivation being honesty as a global necessity, we actually developed quite a great rapport. The tone of the discussion began to soften, and we started having measured and thoughtful discourse on many of the more difficult topics. Before long, we were openly discussing how his opinions on the project, on my motivations, and of me as a person had changed throughout our conversation. I even came to learn why he entered the interview with his initial prejudice: a negative reaction to the combination of my directness of opinion, uncompromising fervor of belief, purposeful use of hyperbolic language, and what appeared to be a consistent thread of judgmental arrogance (something I’ve considered often and plan on writing about in the near future). By the end, I genuinely felt like we were on the same page.
However, despite eventually claiming that I had “won” him over (admittedly, a huge relief), there was still something about this whole uncompromising honesty thing that he couldn’t quite get behind: Regardless of my intentions, he believed, there is just no way I can be warm, supportive, and empathetic while committing to honesty wholeheartedly. And the problem is that, without these three sentiments, it is inevitable that I will eventually become an asshole.
This is an important consideration, and it’s one I’ve heard reiterated in various ways over the last few weeks. Just this week, for example:
“I think it’s really awesome, and I wish more people could get onboard with that idea. I just know that I’d probably lose my job/friends if I was always 100% about everything.”
“Wow! I’d love to dabble in something like this myself, but I’m pretty sure it would get me both fired and set on fire .”
This type of response is one of the most common, and it underlines one of the main reasons that otherwise good and genuine people feel uncomfortable committing to a future without lying. As such, it’s crucial for me to be able to respond to it in such a way so as to convince others that a commitment to honesty does not necessarily mean the death of empathy. Fortunately, I believe I can for two simple reasons.
1. Honesty does not obligate me to share every single detail.
One of the biggest concerns that people have is that, by committing to honesty, they will be forced to reveal all manner of beliefs that will be uncomfortable to either themselves or others. This is incorrect. A commitment to honesty is not an obligation to detail. It is wholly within my right as an autonomous person to choose to refrain from sharing any (or all) information. In the same way I wasn’t before, I’m not required to share anything that I choose not to (whatever the reason may be) so long as the reasons I am doing so are not intentionally deceptive. (As Sam Harris puts it, “holding my tongue or steering the conversation toward a more comfortable topic is not the same as lying.”) In fact, all it does require is that, when I do speak, I do so honestly. It’s helpful, then, to think of it as a commitment to not lying rather than to exhaustive honesty.
2. There is still a place for tact.
Yet even when you do choose to share information, your honesty does not necessitate assholery (I love this word). This is because there is still a place for tact. All words carry within them cultural and historical connotations that should be acknowledged. It is fully within our abilities as thoughtful humans to consider these when we speak, and it would be irresponsible for us to ignore them. Honesty does not need to turn us into automatons so long as we acknowledge the power of tact in minimizing conflict.
However, it’s important to not blur the lines between tactful statements and untrue ones. Recall an earlier example of me telling a family member, “It’s so good to see you again,” when in fact it wasn’t. This was an untrue statement, and as such (and in spite of its apparent harmlessness), it should have been avoided. However, it’s not as if the only alternative is to say, “It’s not good to see you again,” a comment wholly devoid of tact. To say this (in this context) would certainly make me an asshole. But the truth is, there are countless alternative introductions that are at my disposal which are both honest and tactful. For example: “I’m so surprised to see you!” or “When did you get in!?” (the former of which is true, and the latter of which is a straightforward question). And this seems to be the case for almost all other potential scenarios in which an honest statement can avoid being unnecessarily hurtful simply through a bit of care and consideration. Why tell someone that the sweater they gave you “is just so beautiful” (although it’s not), especially when there is an equally appreciative and genuinely true statement to be said: “I am just so touched that you thought of me! (Hell, I’ll even wear it tomorrow.”)?
When put in these terms, then, it becomes quite a bit easier to maintain a commitment to honesty while simultaneously honoring the fact that one does not need to be an asshole in order to not be a liar. More importantly, this degree of consideration forces us to pay greater attention to the words we share, our intentions in sharing them, and the impact they can have on others. If anything, this is the mark of a truly empathetic person.
(I’d like to thank the Uproxx editorial staff for their interest in my project, as well as the great journalist who took the time to discuss it with me in an open-minded and thoughtful way.)