*Originally written / shared 9/16/2015
Sam Harris is someone I greatly admire for his nuanced and thought provoking ethical arguments, careful attention to detail, and a practiced ability to communicate ideas in a remarkably effective fashion. He is easily one of the most important intellectuals of our time.
Last week I revisited this short audio book of his and was immediately catapulted into a profound and overdue insight concerning a self-sabotaging behavior of mine: Telling white lies and omitting important subjective opinions in situations where I’d otherwise be expressing myself to the fullest extent. I’ve spent the majority of my life, from early adolescence up to my present adulthood, fearful of how my words and actions might affect others; be it a positive or negative outcome. I feared the undesirable consequences because of a lifelong tendency to experientially avoid conflict. I don’t want to cause others pain or discomfort. Conversely, I feared some of the beneficial results of honest expression because approaching intimacy can be quite intense, cutting to the core of vulnerability.
I’m soft-spoken, compassionate, and incredibly sensitive to my environment, caring a great deal about the mood and perceptions of the humans I encounter; particularly the ones that I grow closer to. I often assume way too much about people, reading into things, imagining and feeling more than the senses can account for. Sometimes my intuitions are spot on, sometimes they are dead wrong.. all the while I’m either acting on those gut feelings or refraining from taking any action at all.
This process has resulted in confusing the utter shit out of many of the people who have tried to get close to me. It’s simultaneously allowed some who think they’re close to me to actually know very little about me. I’ve often leaned heavily on my natural ability to be a calm, quiet, and attentive listener. I have a knack for redirecting all the attention back onto the person I’m conversing with. This sometimes leads to any feelings of connection being one-sided in my company’s favor. I end up prohibiting myself from getting what I want or need out of the relationship.
I take full accountability for that outcome. I must also profess my deepest apologies to the sweet and well-intentioned people I hurt by being a poor communicator, for failing to assert my boundaries sooner, for coming out of left-fucking-field with a truth bomb about needing my space and independence. As well as the numerous and regrettable times that I failed to confess all the things I love about the people who really matter to me.
I’ve made it the primary focus of my life over the last 3-4 years to unravel the psychological issues that led me into this state of inner turmoil. Through a commitment to weekly psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, psychology and mindfulness literature, and good friends who inspire me to sleep less and work harder, it’s become crystal clear what I’ve struggled with throughout my life: A negative self-image, abject procrastination on all things concerning practical life, a tendency to overthink the smallest things, and, most overarching, a perpetual battle with feeling unacceptable in the eyes of the rest of the world. All of this caused me to feel alienated by my own subjective experience of reality, withholding it from the world and keeping it to myself.
I was indecisive about everything of pressing importance to my life, I felt disoriented and confused, like anything that I could possibly want to express, shouldn’t be revealed. That it had zero value or would be instantly criticized because of its imperfect nature. Now I see clearly how troublesome it all was to my psychological well-being and I’ve moved through it and nearly overcome it. It will always be a part of me, for better or worse, to some extent. I want to more consistently express my subjectivity without feeling guilty, which requires dropping all of the white-lying, the tongue biting, the unnecessary and incessant yielding to the preferences of others.
The truth is so important. While we should be careful about how we present it and remember to disclose the nuances of what it means, we should rarely, if ever, suppress it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Because it does exist! And it will wreck you if you don’t yield to it and give it some kind of a voice. It’s not a requirement to always deliver such truth through spoken words. We can write it out or let it become art. As long as we give it a channel the benefits will be reaped and our relationships improved.
It’s important to be clear that this is in no way a suggestion to become a rude or callous individual who openly speaks his or her mind at every available outlet. Careful communication and staying mindful of the situation’s greater context is certainly of the utmost importance. It should also be noted that consistently communicating the truth efficiently and effectively is no easy task.
But if you’re someone like me who optimistically cares deeply about all of humanity, and at one time or another has struggled with telling white lies and omitting opinion-laden information, thinking it somehow benefited the world and protected the feelings of others.. read this short Epiphanies Disguised as Book Reviewsbook by Sam Harris and contemplate your life through the lens he provides. To tell a lie, to withhold vital information when it is clearly necessary to deliver the truth, even in the most seemingly innocent of situations, is to deepen the habit of cutting yourself off from self-knowledge and inner peace; potentially ruining so many otherwise beautiful human relationships.