*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.


The author and the boy

This is a long overdue apology. I’m going to explain some vulnerable things about myself and hope you take this letter’s honesty for what it is: A chance to get to know me a little better.

Several years ago I suddenly slammed a door on our friendship. I had informed you in a text message that my silence meant: “I need space. You invade my space more than you know.” When you didn’t respond I knew I had hurt you. That sucked. However, I was simultaneously glad to finally feel the relief I had been seeking deep down. Because it was true: I did need some space – a lot of space actually. All the space you ended up giving me. I liked it. So I withheld from apologizing and instead routinely brought my awareness to it, asking myself why I was okay with not reaching out to you and explaining my outburst.

Over these last 3 years I kept up with personal growth through depth psychotherapy sessions, meditation, and journaling. I would often reflect on that text message confrontation as it became increasingly clear that this uncomfortable moment with you was a huge turning point in my ability to express interpersonal boundaries. I began to understand that I’m a person who’s gifted in the art of attentively listening to others and I wind up knowing my friends deeply and intimately. If I’m not vigilantly mindful of that, a one-sided closeness develops too quickly and at the expense of my own needs.

You’re a very sweet and well-intentioned person. I really appreciated your efforts to draw me out into the world, help me with a resume, and the encouragement to pursue an interesting job opportunity. You even believed in me as a writer and gifted me some good books on dealing with writer’s block. But back then I struggled with setting boundaries while you were quite forward. Our professional relationship and friendship quickly became tinged with troublesome undertones.

In truth, I wasn’t totally onboard with most of your proposals and suggestions. What you witnessed of me was more of an aimless shot at challenging myself by spontaneously accepting your calls to action. From the moment I agreed to portray Ethan for you at that extras casting for that TV show, to applying for the position at your job, to collaborating on the book – these were all instances of me trying something different and getting out of my comfort zone. However, deep down, my enthusiasm was severely lacking because these weren’t things I truly cared much about. Not to belittle the fact that the experiences taught me a lot; because they did. It’s just that I definitely could have been more straightforward about my level of dedication. Had I communicated that to you, I believe you would have taken it to heart and tempered your own enthusiasm in response. And for that I take responsibility.

I also felt like you assumed more about me than you had authentically gotten to know through active listening. I felt pressured to conform towards some idea you had of me more than I felt heard and understood by you. And because of that, I found it awkward and hard to be around you. Additionally, I wasn’t looking to talk everyday or collaborate on your book to the degree you seemed to believe. I didn’t know how to tell you any of that (nor were these insights even consciously clear to me back then). Eventually the underlying resentment reached such a point that I blew up in that text message – where I communicated my need for space very, very poorly. I know now that I have to speak up about these things early and carefully. Others can’t read my mind, not in the least. I can imagine how, from your perspective, our interactions objectively looked like I was genuinely onboard with everything. And my childish outburst must have been quite confusing to you.

This experience with you became a pivotal progression in my focus on interpersonal boundaries. And I’m at a place now where I feel confident and able to express them. I feel like I owe you lunch and the opportunity for you to speak openly about any pain I caused you due to my immaturity. So if you’re interested in that let me know and we can set something up. If not, I hope this letter conveys that I’m truly apologetic for shutting that door on our friendship. Thank you for respecting the space I needed and for just letting it be. I always kind of hoped that somehow it helped you put the finishing touches on Ethan’s character.