OR: How TRUTH is an obstacle to leadership, success and achievement
The ‘truth’ is important – in theory and maybe it is even the most important thing – but in the way the world works practically, the truth is really quite irrelevant. Consider this:
In the world of business, brand is the story you want to tell to the world, not necessarily what you are. When you sell, you emphasise the positives and omit the negatives; not necessarily lying but not really telling the truth. When you go for a job interview, you flavour your experience to match the role and you don’t reveal your real weaknesses, just the ones that others can live with. When you work in a team you don’t call out the prick or confront the weak boss. We say we want to serve the customers, but we really want to make more money; and that is the truth.
In our personal interactions you ask someone how they are you are interacting in a societally-endorsed fashion often rather than because you complete, utterly care about the person. People say ‘thank you’ without being truly thankful. People say ‘sorry’ without sincere regret. It is quite ironic that the notion of ‘personal branding’ is such a hot topic – and NOT what Tom Peters intended when he introduced the idea in 1997.
The real truth is unhelpful in our everyday lives.
The last bastion of the truth is somewhere in our legal system, but even there it is being increasingly compromised with judgements coloured by politics, socio-cultural influence and personal bias.
We seek the truth when confronted with life and death or in pursuit of ‘justice’. In fact, we only seek the truth when it suits us. And at all other times we are happy to live with ‘the fudge’.
'That’s just the way the world works', I hear you say. And you are right. In the real, everyday world there is no place for the prophets and messengers of truth.
The truth does not matter. What does matter is being accepted; and your influence and success depends on the extent to which you can create an ‘appearance of things’ that are acceptable – irrespective of whether it is true or right.
The question we all face is whether we (a) accept the way the world works and work in it to achieve what we want or (b) whether we fight against the natural state of being in pursuit of the truth and pay the price for that?
You can view those who choose option (a) as realists or liars and you can view those who choose option (b) as self-righteous or as principled. In camp (a) are the achievers and the managers and the politicians. In camp (b) we have the artists, the mavericks and the crazy ones.
We all choose where we want to camp and reap the consequences.
Many reading this will say or think they belong in Camp B – because they are enamoured by the romantic delusion of the outsider. Just take a look around you and be truthful about the choice you have made.
The TRUTH is that few are willing to bear the burden of truth: unpopularity, victimisation, being denied opportunities, isolation and so forth. The TRUTH is that being a prophet of truth is not romantic and admirable.
The TRUTH is no one wants to hear they are fat, can’t sing, are a poor leader, have questionable hygiene and a worse sense of humour or are just plain dumb. Society demands that we pretend that we can be anything we like, that we all deserve a shot and that things can change. Society tells you there is no such thing is a stupid question and that all that matters is how hard you try. The TRUTH is that all of that is a lie.
If you are truly in Camp B, you are highly unlikely to be successful in terms of status, finances or reputation and you will boast few friends. If you think I am exaggerating, watch a clip of Jim Carey in Liar, Liar again and remind yourself how awkward the truth is.
Most of us have banished truth to the periphery of our lives and opted for a life of relative comfort instead; because that is just the way the world works.
In doing so of course we embed a fundamental weakness in our society. When everything becomes morally and socially and personally ‘relative’ – as it does in the absence of an absolute principle of truth – then we are figuratively building our house on a foundation of sand.
All those things that demand an absolute truth at its foundation, like justice, like love; all become relative and eventually unattainable.
I can’t imagine living in a world where the only thing that matters is what matters to any individual, but that is the world we inherit when we say ‘that is just the way the world works’ or when we believe there are times when ‘there is nothing to be gained from telling the truth’.
N Taleb is proud of the fact that he has 'fuck you money' which gives him the option to say whatever he thinks, and reckons you can't trust anyone who is beholden to anyone or anything. When we choose to live in Camp A we are beholden to a fundamental falsehood of public opinion (as opposed to an objective truth). We choose to follow 'gurus' and those who claim to have found a 'secret to success recipe'; i.e. someone who has figured out a short-cut in the real world.
We choose acceptance over truth.
But who is prepared to be that crazy person in ash cloth and rags who will walk down the street and curse the morally bankrupt, the selfish, and the unjust?
No one yet.
For we all realise that we must be prepared to shine the spotlight of truth on ourselves first. Reveal the racism. Admit a bit of homophobia, or that you think you might be one. Announce your religion. Acknowledge midnight visits to the fridge, your secret addiction to porn, or that you are an executive who likes reading New Idea. Admit your fears and your resentment of another’s success. So many things, so many things.
It’s better to pretend and join the Crowd in Camp A. There might be no future in it, but at least we're not lonely.
PS: This little rant started out as a short intro paragraph to our bi-weekly newsletter, and turned into a post as I got angrier with myself. Anyway, you can get the newsletter on my website.