Larken Rose published an excellent article (“You Should Be Offended”) recently where he discusses his experiences with confronting people with the truth. This article really resonated with me because I deal with very similar situations almost on a daily basis, and I share much of Larken’s views on this. Here are some quotes from his article that I liked in particular:
It may seem a tad ironic that, as someone who advocates a society based upon voluntary peaceful coexistence, I think it’s a good thing that some people are capable of being confrontational, argumentative bastards who don’t mind insulting and offending others. […] I’m talking about people willing to tell the truth even when the truth is not popular, and even when telling the truth can earn one the scorn and hatred of the general public.
It is neither brave nor useful to go around loudly telling a truth that everyone already knows. What matters—what changes the world—is people telling the truth when the rest of the world doesn’t know it, and doesn’t want to hear it. Going around today and proclaiming, “Slavery is wrong!” doesn’t require any courage or fortitude. The time to proclaim that was back when much of the world still thought that slavery was proper and legitimate, even righteous. What needs saying today is whatever truths still make people uncomfortable.
Even in a free society, there will still be ways in which people are rewarded for speaking about “safe” topics that the majority will approve of, and punished for undermining people’s paradigms and going beyond their comfort zones. But if you want to see the nauseating results of what happens when someone tailors and waters down his message in the hopes of pleasing everyone—or as many people as possible—you need look no further than politics: a huge substance-free parade of empty suit puppets spewing whatever vague, meaningless, feel-good tripe might dupe the moronic majority into supporting them.
In the long run, there is an advantage to having such an outlook. Yeah, you may be broke, and possibly despised by everyone you know, but at least people will know that you are genuine, that you say what you think, and that your soul is not for sale.
I absolutely hate watering down or sugar-coating anything I have to say. When done ‘correctly’ it’s essentially a form of mind-manipulation — something I despise and avoid as much as I can. And when it’s not done “correctly” it’s an ineffective way of communication, because it distorts your message and your message can lose much of its impact or meaning by the time it reaches your audience. This can cause a lot of misunderstandings. Not to mention that it’s a complete waste of any mental energy that you have to put into worrying and transforming your message so that it might be perceived in a more positive way by people. In my experience it’s a much better approach for the long term to keep your message clear, frank, direct and to the point. Lean and mean; no beating around the bush.
People often complain that I’m too direct, too sharp or come across too offensive in my communications. The earliest I can remember getting such feedback was when I was around 20 years old, and wrote an internal email to the management team at one of my first full-time employers. In that email I expressed my criticism with the way things were going in the company, while, of course, also offering my views on ways to improve things. The feedback I got later from one of the managers was that I was “very sharp” and that he “almost felt attacked” and that I might want to consider “choosing my wording more carefully” in the future. But choosing my wording more carefully has never been, and will never be, my style. So other subsequent employers had to deal with my frankness and directness as well.
And the reason why I choose to be like this, is because I know from experience that it’s the best approach. People might get uncomfortable, maybe even offended, but your message will have been received in absolute clarity, free from any noise and bloat, and will be precisely understood (eventually). And I like to communicate in this way especially if it concerns telling the truth to people and pointing out that they’re wrong, in the hope that they might change and improve themselves. Especially in such cases, sugar-coating or watering down your message will seldom motivate people to change in the right way. Even if you bring it to them as polite and respectful as possible, the truth will often hurt people, it might shock them when they first learn about it, and it might even completely shake up and destroy their worldview. But all of that is needed in order to leave a mark in their subconscious (or unconscious) that will eventually motivate them to change. Consciously they might (try to) shut themselves off from your message, but subconsciously it will continue to keep them busy — you can be absolutely confident of that. What has been seen/heard, cannot be unseen/unheard. You’ll eventually come to notice the effects. And sometimes change is a relatively slow process, so be realistic about your expectations and don’t expect results too soon.
I admit that even for me, the truth can be painful to accept sometimes, especially when I find out that I’ve been wrong, but I also know that it’s an opportunity for me to grow. The truth can only hurt or offend you if you’ve been living a lie. And I don’t want to live a lie. I want to be true to myself, and to everyone else.
If you think that dealing with (people like) me might be difficult, think about how painful it eventually always is to deal with people who have hidden agendas, who’re not being truthful, and who’re being hypocrites in your presence. How will you feel about them when you find out later what they really think? Wouldn’t you rather deal with people who are honest, genuine, and tell you exactly what they think?