Honestly? Honesty.

Post image for Honestly? Honesty.

“Lies beget other lies. Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.” – Sam Harris

There I was on a bench at Centennial Park in Nashville, TN overlooking the world’s only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, reading a Kindle book called Lying by Sam Harris, and nodding my head in agreement after every turn.

I had just posted a very honest article 2 weeks prior and hadn’t posted anything since. September 2011 would go on to be the only month in the history of this blog that I didn’t post a single article. I’d been second-guessing myself about being so honest about how I felt on that particular topic and if I should continue that trend. I questioned whether it was the right thing to do for myself and my future. As much support as I received on the article I still felt a bit at-odds.

I knew then that I needed to do 2 things:

  1. Write about the eBook Lying. If I could send it to everybody in the world I would. (I did send a copy to my friend Markus because I knew he’d appreciate it.)
  2. Get more uncomfortable more often. Be more honest.

Prior to reading Lying I’d been inspired by James Altucher. James is so open on his blog you’d think nobody would ever do business with the man. I would, and obviously other people do as well. (Note: This article was written before James posted this article about honesty yesterday. Crazy, huh?)

“Honesty is a gift we can give to others.” – Sam Harris

The last few articles I’ve posted I’ve written things I was actually scared to post publicly. Most of the reactions have been exceptionally positive.

Here’s a bit of revelation: It doesn’t actually matter what I think or what anybody else thinks about what I think. That realization was very freeing.

A lot of people hide behind lies white and otherwise because it’s seemingly bad for business. When your goal isn’t to squeeze every possible penny out of everybody this no longer matters.

I’m intelligent enough to know that I’m intelligent enough to make things happen no matter the barriers set before me. I’m also intelligent enough to know that by being honest I could be consciously placing obstacles in my way. Maybe these obstacles make it more difficult, maybe they don’t. More than likely these obstacles are just figments of my imagination.

Everybody’s Bullshittin’

Most online personas are fake. What we write and who we are diverge completely because we tell ourselves, “I can’t get anywhere if anybody found out the truth.”

But it’s not relegated to just online personas. Most personas are fake.

Sometimes I’m out and I think, “There is no way the online Karol would act like this or do this. Quit being a baby.”

We (I’m at fault here as much as anybody) hide specific things and highlight (or “white lie”) certain aspects about life or our pasts or our businesses because it’s supposedly good for the girls/guys we’re dating or trying to date, the employer we’re trying to impress, or to attract more clients to our business.

The Bullshit Industry

There are whole books, seminars, and training courses devoted to this art of persuasion & presentation. The best, maybe only, way to combat it is to study it yourself. You can’t know it’s happening to you except when you know it’s happening to you. And when you know it’s happening the fog you didn’t even know was there breaks up and you see things clearly. (I’ll talk more about persuasion this coming Monday.)

Interestingly, we all know lying sucks. White lies like, “Oh, yeah, that shirt looks great on you” when it really doesn’t. And more hurtful lies like, “No, I’ve never cheated” or “I’ll never do it again.” They may not all hold equal weight, but they’re all problematic.

“The moment we consider our dishonesty from the point of view of those we lie to, we recognize that we would feel betrayed if the roles were reversed.” – Sam Harris

It makes it that much more difficult to lie when we think about it like that. I know I won’t always tell the whole truth, but I’m much more conscious of it now. Particularly of the white lies that “don’t matter.”

I’ve already quoted Sam Harris to high heaven so let’s end with another:

How would your relationships change if you resolved never to lie again? What truths might suddenly come into view in your life? What kind of person would you become? And how might you change the people around you? It is worth finding out.”

It is worth finding out, don’t you think?

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In case it wasn’t clear in the previous 800 words, I think every thinking human being should read Lying by Sam Harris. (I get paid 20 cents if you buy it, no lie.)

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Commenting suggestion:

Let’s try something. “Great article!” or “I agree!” type comments, while very much appreciated, don’t continue the conversation. Instead, if you have thoughts on the topic let us know. If you have questions, ask them. It’s also OK to stay quiet.

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{ 45 comments }

Shanna Mann

Actually Karol, I like the fact that in your everyday life you can look to the ‘concept’ of Karol Gadja and use it aspirationally. I think that you’re probably living your life in such a way as to unify aspirational Karol and regular Karol.

I don’t think of it as lying. I think of it as a vision, or a target.

I remember my first major breakup. I knew it wasn’t working and I had thrown everything into trying to make it work. When I got dumped, I felt like I had failed, and failing wasn’t something I did in those days. And I felt rejected, because I had changed so much, trying to assuage his insecurities. And I was pouring my heart out to a friend and he said, “What are you doing? You’re a strong, beautiful, successful woman. What are you doing *chasing* a man, trying to convince him to love you?” And that snapped me right out of it, like turning on a light.

I, Shanna Mann, do not beg people to love me. The only people who matter already do. Now, which Shanna was the lie and which one was the truth? Granted, there was hardly any difference then, but there’s less now. I have integrated more fully. And so have you. And that’s not a lie. That’s a skill we’re all trying to learn.

Rob

Ok this is not continuing the conversation, but I’ve never realized this before, and it is profound. A vision, or an ideal, is just a lie projected to the future. And that is a great thing to do. So not all lying is bad… Thanks so much for sharing this viewpoint. My head is spinning now. :)

Karol

We’re stretching the definition of a lie here. All lying is bad, we all inherently know that, and we all still lie. Setting goals based on the future we can’t see? That’s not a lie.

Karol

Using the “concept” of Karol aspirationally sounds good, thanks Shanna. And it’s true, the only people who matter already do love us (or will when we meet them). I don’t think growth (aka realizing what you realized in your story) is the same as lying. I’m more worried about white and outright lies (for myself and my world) than failing to be who I think I should be, you know?

Rob

I think it is important to realize that as we grow, we change. Sometimes radically. Sometimes very quickly. So what we thought or said last week, month, whatever, may no longer be true. So true honesty means admitting that we have changed. And it also means saying “I don’t know” a lot. I have always felt that when asked a question, I had to have an answer. It has taken me wanting to be honest to realize that the answer is frequently “I don’t know”. Or at least, “I’m not sure”. :)

Karol

Very true and nobody will fault you for that.

The lies come into play when you do know, but say something else. Nobody can honestly say they don’t do that to some capacity. So the challenge is realizing this and stopping ourselves from doing it.

Ryan

This is an area I have struggled with as well. In my case, its been years. Probably because I was teased about a multitude of things in my teenage years like being a bit heavy, having a slight stutter, I didn’t drink, my parents were strict, etc.

So to try and fit in, I began to “be someone else” but over time, I lost who I really was by trying to always make other people happy.

Starting a couple years back, I changed that habit by being more “open” about what I thought, what I liked and how I felt about things.

At first it was very unnerving because I am sitting there thinking “what if someone doesn’t like me”. Funny things started to happen though:

1) I started to laugh WITH people when they were poking fun at something…causing them to almost immediately stop.

2) I stopped caring what certain people thought. Having a solid core of people I trust around me now I know that their feedback comes from a good place. Other people, I take with a grain of salt.

3) More people started to gravitate towards me. I started to get invited to more things, people sought me out to talk or stay in touch and so on.

4) I started to WANT to share my opinions. Most recently, I finally started a blog to document some of my thoughts “out in the open” and to track my goals so I am even more accountable. I don’t have a solid plan on where its going but I am confident that whatever happens, it will move me in a new and interesting direction.

Moral to the story: I believe that since the world is so full of BS these days, people will naturally be attracted to sincere, genuine honesty.

P.S. – Totally gave you 20 cents, can’t wait to read it :)

Karol

“I believe that since the world is so full of BS these days, people will naturally be attracted to sincere, genuine honesty.” – This is true. One of the issues that comes up is that people know this. I’ll talk more about this on Monday, but the whole persuasion/sales/marketing industry teaches these basic tenets of psychology. You can make yourself seem sincere and genuine by sharing lies and half-truths. Which is what I think a lot of us face. We think we know what people want to hear (and sometimes we do know) and we let that be our guide instead of using how we actually feel as our guide.

Jennifer

Honestly, I think the whole honesty thing is terrifying. While I don’t do a ton of out-right lying I do do a whole lot of hiding myself from the world. I suppose this is a lie-by-omission type of thing. Maybe honesty will throw up some roadblocks, but at the same time I think most people generally respect a person who’s being honest. Even if it isn’t the most pleasant, it does take a lot of guts to be honest.

I did buy the book since it was only $1.99. I think I could use a little more honesty, even if it is terrifying…

Karol

Great point Jennifer. It is terrifying. Even more so in personal interactions than online. In person you get immediate feedback and it can be painful.

Neil

I’ve been taking the honesty route for quite a while now. The upside has been far fewer phone calls.

Karol

haha!

Annie

I try to be honest but at times I wonder: is omission honesty? Is delay honesty? I write my posts in the heat of passion and then I have cooled off when they publish..

Is that honest?

Also, it is rather embarrassing to be seen as oneself, but I try to show my cowardice and agony for the world…

This is an excellent topic to write about..

Karol

Omission is the secret to sales letters, marketing, and persuasion. Yes, it is lying.

As for writing in the heat of passion and then editing when you’ve cooled off? That’s a little different. It’s like when you get cut off in traffic and you “wish they would die!” but you don’t actually wish that at all.

Steve

I’m not sure on the all omission is lying. I do understand it can be lying, as when we simply leave something out on purpose. But what about below when you talk about being honest but not hurtful. Essentially you are omitting certain truths and substituting a less harsh truth. Could this still be a lie? If not, where is the line between being mostly honest and fully honest?

Karol

We could go in circles on this for days. The point is we all know when we’re not being honest, including omission. And no matter what we tell ourselves we’re not doing anybody a service by lying to them. This doesn’t mean you go around telling everybody whatever you feel at every moment.

Rosa

Karol you said: “We’re stretching the definition of a lie here. All lying is bad, we all inherently know that, and we all still lie.”
I debating how I feel about that, because there are times when I have lied to protect other people’s feelings. For example, if my coworker whom I don’t like, asks me to do something with her, I will try to get out of it. Because I don’t want to say, No I cannot stand being around you! :(
Does anyone have any suggestions on how to not lye and not hurt other peoples feelings unncessarily?

Rob

I would just say “no, I’d rather not” when asked to go out. No explanation needed. And I don’t think that would cause hurt feelings.

Karol

The issue here is that “no, I’d rather not” will probably result in “why not?” as a response. And therein lies the real test.

Karol

Rosa, Chad (commented below) offers good advice and Sam Harris has useful ideas/examples in his book.

You can be honest and not hurtful.

Chad

I bought the book the day it was released, but finally decided to read it based on this blog post. Great stuff, Karol. I’m generally a very honest person – no bullshit, say it like it is. If my wife asks me what I think about her outfit, I tell her what I think. If I don’t like it, I’m certainly not rude about it, but I just tell her that it’s not my favorite outfit and why… but that it’s no big deal, she doesn’t need to change it based on my preference and that she’s certainly still beautiful to me (no lie!). And the nice thing is that when I do like something, it’s genuine. When I tell her ‘damn, you look smoking hot’ it means “DAMN, YOU LOOK SMOKING HOT”. She knows it’s not just words – and it makes her day rather than just being fluffy words that a husband is supposed to say in that situation.

And in my career, I’m a copywiter. I have certainly lost clients over not being willing to lie in the many forms that are possible in a sales letter. I refuse to make up testimonials, create fictional people, exaggerate benefits, etc…

Karol

Thanks for offering a great example and a great point. When you tell the truth your thoughts, good or bad, will be valued.

We need more copywriters like you!

Chad

I forgot to add the key point I intended when I started writing the comment… this book STILL changed the way I think. Even though I’ve always considered myself a straight-up guy, I still know I’ve been guilty of very silly little white lies in the past such as not claiming little purchases while crossing the Canada/USA border or telling people that I can’t make it to a party because I’m busy with whatever when really I just didn’t want to go. And these things do cause headaches. Honesty is the far better option. This book re-affirmed that and even built on it.

Karol

“And these things do cause headaches.” – There it is. And I think that’s what makes them not so silly.

Linda Sand

I once had a friend accuse me of being “excessively honest” because I refused to accept a pirated tape from him. At the time I though honest is like pregnancy–either you are or you aren’t. So I started paying attention to my honesty and was surprised by how often I lied by omission. That was a real eye-opener for me.

Karol

The lie by omission seems to be the easiest to accomplish … I wonder if there’s any research to verify this.

Therese

Hey Karol, I enjoyed hearing your thoughts, as these are the same questions I’ve asked myself many times also. But is it weird that I feel like the “online” me is actually much more honest than the “real-life” me?

Online, I’m able to expose myself and my vulnerabilities in a way that I’m terrified to share in the “real world.” I’ve put it all out there– I’ve writtten about the fact that I really don’t have my shit figured out (but who does?!). I’ve written about the days when I just want to give up. I tell people that I’m not really all that cool (because really, I’m not). I expose myself like this all the time, because that’s what’s real for me right now. I’ve found that being so vulnerable and honest is incredibly freeing, and I can sense that it’s also freeing to my readers.

I have trouble doing this in real life, though, where I feel like I have to wear a mask all the time.

Anyhow, this whole “emotional” aspect of honesty isn’t quite what you were hitting on in your post, but that’s what it brought up for me.

And btw, congrats on writing things that you were actually scared to post publicly. I respect that, and I think the world needs more of it. I also thought it was time that someone said something about popups. Personally, I hate them and I think they’re disrespectful to your readers. If the content is valuable enough and different enough, then readers will subscribe. Not because you “force” them to, but because you’re giving them that much value and because they wanna be on your team ;)

Neil

This is an interesting point. Earlier in life, I would divulge things to people I met on planes (or in foreign cities, etc.) that I would never tell people I might see again. I was far less likely to do this online because the record is permanent. You meet a stranger, spill your guts, and nobody’s the wiser. You’ve essentially tried on a persona — the real you — to gauge the effect. (“Hey, if I’m really myself, will anyone actually like me?”)

Therese, by being totally honest, but only online, do you think you wish that people will get to know, and acknowledge, the real you while you watch from the sidelines?

This sounds like introversion. Which is cool, because I’m a complete introvert myself; I can see a lot of myself in your comment. My comment several posts above was meant to be a bit of a joke, but I do, in fact, hate talking to people on the phone.

Karol

That’s interesting. According to this TED talk by Pamela Meyer (http://www.ted.com/talks/pamela_meyer_how_to_spot_a_liar.html) strangers lie 3 times within the first 10 minutes of meeting each other. You’ve been going against the grain! :)

Neil

During those days I probably combined my honesty with the simultaneous test driving of a persona, however minor, so I likely fit within Pamela’s parameters. (I’m only going on her title/URL as I’m not familiar with the talk.) It would be hard to say I was flat-out lying. At different points in my life I’ve been different things — a teacher, trekking guide, professional drummer, programmer, stamp collector… whatever. Am I being less than genuine if I label myself as something I was last week/month/year?

That said, I’m just me now. A 41-year-old married father who told my boss to get stuffed two years ago, fired all my freelance clients, and set out on a path of developing my own online businesses that don’t involve back and forth freelance fuckery with clients. Surprisingly (or not), a lot of people in my former inner circle have a problem with that.

I’ve gone against the grain in some ways, sometimes, I guess. But not always. I’ve told my share of fibs in my time, both to strangers and people I knew.

Karol

Thanks Therese.

It’s not weird at all. Writing online and being open is easy (easier anyway). You can’t see the immediate reaction, facial expressions, etc. Your computer isn’t going to judge you or call you out on anything. It’s safe. The opposite is true in face to face interactions.

Chris Rg

Thanks Karol, again a great article, being really honest with people can sometimes get you into a great deal of trouble for sure, sometime it seems we need to tell people what they would prefer to hear and have some respect for their feelings. True honesty can be devestating to some peoples fragile lives. I never wish to lie ever, and hate it when i’m asked to for the sake of others, but sometimes we need to protect people from the truth ? Maybe ? x

Karol

Hey Chris, this is the thinking we need to kill. Who are you really protecting? What gives you the right to judge how someone will react to something you think or say? Sam Harris’s ebook deals directly with exactly what you’re stating here and he does it far better than I do.

Steve

Above I’m hearing a lot about the real you and the projected you. Which is interesting to me for the simple fact that both are you. A movie comes to mind “I Heart Huckabees.” The movie is hilarious on the topic of existentialism. The part I’m referring to is where one character has a light bulb go off where he says “How am I not myself?” in reference to the sales persona he’s created. And it makes me consider all of our actions as still our true self. It’s simply a reaction to various stimuli. I get scared when spooked. I cry when touched. I react to my surroundings as I do. However, the lie may come when we don’t like the way we are reacting but blind ourselves from the alternative reactions.

Just some playful thoughts. What do you think?

Karol

Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but now we’re going completely off topic. Which I had a feeling would happen if I included that “sometimes when I’m out” sentence. :) Lying to ourselves is one thing. Lying to someone else is another. The former isn’t necessarily good, but it’s not what we’re talking about here.

Julie

What about lies of omission based on self-preservation? I’ve always thought I was an honest person, sometimes bluntly so, but when I was younger I would just not say anything if I felt I was in hostile territory. Lately I have been more honest and open, not just keeping my mouth shut when I think someone will disagree. As a result, I have formed deeper friendships with people who understand me, and I no longer feel isolated. The trouble is that it took becoming a divorcee and single mom to realize that I needed that in my life. I follow an alternative religion, and it is nice to know that others are out with their secret, working and raising children without being hassled about their lifestyle. But I also know that not everyone is kind to us about our religion. I am openly pagan most of the time (I follow a nature based religion) but I have not yet told my dad’s family or former inlaws. I’m not really worried about my family’s reaction, but I know my former inlaws would be furious, and would probably try to take my children. Yet I still feel horrible about hiding who I am. So I guess the trouble here isn’t that I want to lie, but that I’m afraid of telling the truth. I know that I’ll have to nake this decision on my own, but it feels bigger than me. If I tell the truth, then more people will have to look outside their perceptions and look at me as a person instead of pagans as a concept–and it may change their mind about the lot of us. So, what do you all think about a lie of that nature and magnitude?

Karol

Thanks for sharing this, I think it will help reinforce some of what we’re talking about for others (it did for me): “Lately I have been more honest and open, not just keeping my mouth shut when I think someone will disagree. As a result, I have formed deeper friendships with people who understand me, and I no longer feel isolated.”

As for your in-law situation. I think it really depends on if you want the relationship to be authentic and if you want that horrible feeling you mentioned every time you see or speak with them.

Martin

I find that my honesty can come back to hurt me. I’ve noticed when someone is honest or offers a valid criticism they are called a “hater.” I was trying to tell a friend that his new business idea is absolutely horrible when he asked for my advice. Then he called me a hater. Oh, and this business has gone nowhere.

How do you deal with those that can’t handle the truth?

I also lie when it comes to my past. My girlfriend asks questions about my history and then gets offended by my responses. I’ve found that it’s not always worth it to be honest.

Karol

You can rationalize lying to a girlfriend, friend, coworker, or whomever however you’d like. I’m not saying I’ve never done it. The point is we should stop because any relationship built on lies isn’t, and never will be, a good relationship. (Which, of course, doesn’t matter if you don’t want that particular relationship to be good.)

Also, there are better ways to state “absolutely horrible” than using those words. :)

Chris RG

Hi Martin,
your so right, be it personal of work related, its like walking on thin ice and jumping sometimes if you dare to say what your really feeling, even if it is for the best for everyone. Being totally honest all the time can make you rather unpopular to say the least. People or colleges would rather you play their little games for as long as possible. Tricky if you feel its not right.

Karol

“People or colleges would rather you play their little games for as long as possible.” – Is this fact or are you projecting your thoughts/feelings onto other people?

Angie Vazquez

Karol, your article was very refreshing… I try everyday, the honesty thing. I usually give people a disclaimer: ” do you want me to be honest or not”, I am very careful how to phrase my honesty, no need to hurt people’s feelings. I in the other hand, at this point in my life, I sometimes rather hear a sweet lie…
Sincerely
: /

Karol

Angie, that’s a good suggestion. “Do you want me to be honest or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?” I don’t think I’ve ever tried that.

Chris RG

Here’s what wil says about it,

No legacy is so rich as honesty. – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

I think we can see what he means. x

Solomon Freimuth

Not lying for me often means not just the act of opening my mouth and letting false words flow from it, but stopping behaviors that I need to be dishonest about.

If I am acting in a way that I am not proud of, in any area of my life, I then can justify the necessity to lie about the behavior because I don’t want people to know that I am doing this or that. Or not doing this or that.

By challenging myself to be more honest, I am really challenging myself to behave better.

And it takes practice, like everything else good for me.

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