False Seeds Don’t Grow: Corrupted Motivation & Honest Intent

unnamed twitter user

Sometimes you don’t have time to read but don’t worry, now you have no excuse not to keep up with the heavy and wordy writing I know you love! I’ve recorded a reading of this essay but listening to my voice is it’s own punishment, so proceed at your own risk.

I am an anti-social social media user. I eagerly share my thoughts while hiding away from the actual socialization. 

I dread Twitter mentions. I just go there to talk to myself, really. Therapy’s too expensive anyway. Short thoughts transcribed and collected are attractive — it’s like a journal, but one that claps for you afterwards. And while a positive exchange is like a pat on the back, the negative is more a push to the chest. Appreciated as the former is, the latter outweighs it.

The truth is I have little faith left in the possibility of quality interactions surrounding meaningful ideas, especially online. I resent social media for many things (maliciously addictive design, one), but I especially resent the thousand banal arguments I’ve been force-fed through the feed. I can’t think of another scenario where a human would be the audience of so much uninspired spite from strangers. Yet I remain, undying optimist (fool?) that I am.

I’ve seen so many of these arguments I feel like the Jane Goodall of social media. I’ve taken my observations and tried to analyze the data — what makes this strange species act so remarkably insufferable about their ideas? The point of study. Do the motivations behind why we argue degrade the argument? The hypothesis. 

Honesty is a concept that’s been present so long in human society we don’t consider it often and we rarely reconsider it. We usually approach it the way our societies always have, making tweaks for morphing cultures and shifting moral values. It’s worth much more consideration than we give it. It’s the most fundamental aspect of any worthwhile and healthy relationship, and what is society but a giant collection of relationships?

When we think of honesty, we think about whether you are honest with me and I with you. It’s why public figures like Donald Trump are so darkly enthralling. Most of us wouldn’t think to lie to our families and partners, let alone entire countries, so when someone does, it’s jarring and we feel compelled to right their wrongs through our outrage. 

I believe in calling liars liars — we should hold each other to a high standard of honesty. But this honesty isn’t the kind we lack most in our relationships and it isn’t even the kind that’s all that important. The best time to stop dishonesty is before it leaves the origin.

There are 2 kinds of honesty — outward and inward. He who lacks the first always lacks the second. Inward honesty, honesty with the self, is the more elusive and unpopular form of honesty, yet a practiced sense of self-honesty can change your life. It cuts past all the bullshit excuses we give ourselves for why today just isn’t a good day for the gym because I didn’t sleep long enough and…; it transforms our relationships — instead of having a rough day and picking a fight with our partner only to call it an even worse day, self-honesty gives us the awareness to recognize from where our behavior stems.

Yet it’s so, so unpopular. We don’t concern ourselves with requiring this kind of honesty from others, instead we emphasize outward honesty — don’t you dare lie to me while I’m busy lying to myself about why I’m with someone who lies to me to begin with. But I completely understand inward honesty’s unpopularity. If choosing between catching you in a lie and catching myself in a lie, I would rather be right. 

We’re so fixated with catching and punishing other people in their lies we’ve neglected the second, vital half of what honesty is. Without self-honesty, everything we do stems from undefined motivations. If I can’t be honest with myself enough to see my dislike for another person might stem from my own insecurities, what chance do I have at a genuine interaction with them? Worse yet, I lose the chance to recognize and mitigate the damage my insecurity does to my relationships. I lose the chance to develop into a higher self. 

Here’s my own outward honesty; I don’t want to hear about how some public figure is lying again and how these people I don’t know are so wrong about a thing. If it’s a crime, let it be dealt with as such. If it’s a shitty person, deal with them, too, as such. I don’t need any more proof, I know everyone’s usually lying to someone else or themselves in at least some routine way. It’s not that I’m apathetic or cynical, I wouldn’t write this if I was. I believe it’s wasted effort that would be better spent catching that dishonesty before it leaves the source.

When people have reached the level of lying to others, the shame you heap on them will rarely change them; they’ve already lied to themselves about their justifications. The effort is better spent on the self. There’s little you can do to change a dish once cooked, but changing a recipe is an art in itself. 

I avoid debates now, the difference between 2 people seeking understanding and 2 people seeking to be right is the distaste left in the aftermath. Debates are debates in name alone when both sides are motivated by anything other than truth. Instead we dress up our egotistical motivations in ideology and fight to ensure they remain pristine, or in reality, unchanged.

Yet truth is never damaged by change, only the ego is. When we argue for ego, we lose the chance to find truth and instead force a perspective on the world around us. This rigidity of the mind is our obstacle — its absence is what creates the beauty in the way a child interacts with the world from deep curiosity or the one-ness and emotional peace with the world someone experiencing a loss of ego under psychedelics feels.

New environments are left behind by each route we take to a goal and that route differs with our reasons for the goal. If I want to lose weight for the sake of my health or to instead feel accepted by my society, the path I take to obtain the same goal can vary immensely, even dangerously. Lack of self-honesty can cause us pain. Without cultivating a sense of self-honesty, we repeat the same mistakes, needlessly prolonging our own suffering. 

But the damage is not just done to the self. Anyone that seeks to solve a problem must first understand its reality. The farther from reality we stand, the more our accuracy shrinks. Any critique or contradiction should be welcomed, examined, and considered as a chance to see more of reality. Or are we now so frail in mind as to fear being corrupted by even hearing the disagreeable?

Paper by Nora Berenstain on the inherent harm in skepticism.

Information is neither good nor bad, it’s the ego that tells us new information which might render us wrong is a danger. It’s that fear of being wrong that prevents us from seeing the world more truthfully throughout our lives. The concept of a cultivated child’s mind has been considered by those dedicated to life long learning. But the quality of the child’s mind that makes it such a freeing place from which to learn is self-honesty. The child has yet to fully form his ego and retains a fluidity of ideals that allows them to hold any idea and pose any question from a place of true curiosity.

I used to be a very argumentative person, always happy to teach someone how they were wrong. More self-honesty let me see how my arguments never had the goal of understanding, but instead of self-affirming. I wanted to be right more than I wanted to learn.

I hate to think now that I would so prize my ego and feed its love of being right over the chance of understanding, of learning. I don’t want my ego affirmed, I don’t really even want my ego at all, so there are many discussions I just won’t have now. Most of them, actually, I won’t have, because most of them are an egotistical tug-of-war. Yet there are few things more uniquely human than exploring the world around you through honest discussion. Replacing one with the other is like replacing Phil Collins with Ray Wilson — offensive even in theory, disastrous in practice.

Surprisingly, I’m not some enlightened being recounting my wisdoms from on high. I struggle with not telling myself micro lies like “I deserve a second donut” and “I’ll do it tomorrow” daily. I admit my shame: I, too, have an ego, and it demands the ugliest things of me. I can’t tell you how to act from a place of inward honesty, but I can tell you it’s a good idea and how I try. 

Count the number of questions you ask every time you speak, then take that number and double it. Monitor arrogance. The moment you feel pride about the argument you’re making, stop and ask more questions. Ask questions to other people, even if you think they’re wrong, and ask questions to yourself, even if you think you’re right. For now I’ll retain my anti-social social media strategy: observe from a far and flee. Even Jane Goodall eventually left the jungle, too. 

You didn’t think I would praise the virtues of honest discourse and curiosity and then not ask for your thoughts, did you? Yell in the comments, on Twitter or even Instagram if that’s your thing.