“Is that a lie?” I asked the question as I realized the answer.
The conversation with my girlfriend this morning was around the “right” way to respond when someone shares a favorite food or drink—and, by abstraction, idea, story or position—that we don’t like. In these situations, we can eke by on half truths such as, “it’s interesting” or “it’s good” or “it must be healthy”. Or even outright lies like, “I like it” or “I agree”.
A better response, we decided, would be, “Wow. Thanks for sharing. On first impression, that’s quite a bit different than what I’m used to. But I can see how you might like it/see it that way.” And, for bonus points, “Maybe if I tried it a couple more times I’d like it better” or “Tell me more about why that’s important to you.”
There is an important distinction to be made between the mistakable and the unmistakable truth.
The mistakable truth can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, unresolved conflicts, missed opportunities, et cetera. By contrast, even if it results in a bit of initial conflict and discomfort, the unmistakable truth has a way of opening doors of real conversation, authentic connection and growth.
Featured image by Ben Canales of Truth Is Beauty, a 55-foot-tall sculpture created for Burning Man by artist Marco Cochrane.
Consider above all else whether you’ve advanced in philosophy or just in actual years.
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, XVI:3
Years mean nothing if we haven’t gained wisdom. And wisdom is worthless if it can’t be applied.
A useful definition of philosophy is that it is the practice of gaining wisdom by studying and consciously exposing oneself to the natural processes of growth and change in our selves, minds, society and the natural world.
For a fighter in the ring, victory or defeat is nothing more than the measure of the effectiveness of his training. Likewise for a philosopher, whole-hearted study of the inner and outer worlds in the easy times prepares him to apply philosophy in the harder times.
In this sense, wisdom is far from subjective and not at all open to interpretation. It is measured by the ability to keep a level head, stay curious, and thrive even under the worst of external circumstances.
You are afraid to die, but come now: how is this life of yours anything but death?
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXXVII:18
Some of us hide from it, some of us glorify it. Some of us deny it and avoid it by name.
But the task is to learn to recognize the “little deaths” that happen hour by hour, day by day, and to learn not to insulate ourselves from their emotional impact on our lives.
After all, if we’re not energized by the growth, change, and transformation that our relationships, minds, world and work inevitably face, that is it’s own kind of death.
Seneca’s lesson is that a life well-lived must constantly reckon with death. Not in dwelling on its distant inevitability—but instead, by finding and celebrating the moment-to-moment gift that its companionship offers.
The best kind of revenge is, not to become like unto them.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6:V
If your opponent is fearful, stay aware and find a way to remain courageous.
If your opponent is irrational, become rational.
If you opponent is deceitful, be honest.
If your opponent is bigoted, practice love and tolerance.
If you opponent is judgmental, keep an open mind.
If your opponent is argumentative and rude, communicate well and practice diplomacy.
But there’s no version of becoming this person as a reaction to your enemy that doesn’t make you his slave. Instead, the way through is to seek out the part of yourself that is the enemy and reckon with it.
Understand what that side of you it is most afraid of losing, and find a productive way to provide it. Not only does this make you a better person, it turns you into a formidable opponent with the power to stand up to, take down, and keep out.
If you want freedom, you can’t deny it to others. If you want to be respected, trusted, and treated like an adult, you have to respect and trust others.
In 1859, in his seminal work On Liberty, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:
The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.
None of us has the option to love and value democracy, free-speech, and liberty on the condition that others must think and act like us. And the place to start practicing is with ourselves and our closest relationships.
To what extent are you denying freedom to those around you? To what extent are you denying it to yourself?
Instead of obstructing, imposing your beliefs (no matter how well-reasoned and well-meaning), and criticizing, help us to:
- Learn responsibility
- Practice ethical decision-making
- Tell our own stories
- Tell the truth
- Make mistakes and learn from them
- Take care of ourselves and others
- Steward the contents of our own minds
- Grow and change
- Lean into conflict
- Learn to listen
- Set boundaries
- Speak out
This is how we get there. And this is how we arrive together.
This post could be considered a continuation of my earlier post, The Practice of Freedom. It’s one of my favorites, and worth a look-see.