Braving the Wilderness: Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil

  • February 15 2018

The dangerous dismissal of truth in favor of emotional appeal is on the rise. Here’s how to stand up, speak truth, and keep your cool when you do.

This is Part III in the series on Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness

Bullshit is Dangerous

This was a difficult post to write, because the problem is so near and pressing, and the solution so challenging and uncertain.

First, Brene breaks down the difference between lying and bullshitting. Lying is taking a position in opposition to the truth, but fundamentally acknowledging the facts and reality surrounding an issue.

Bullshit is the wholesale dismissal of the truth. It is what we keep seeing in our political and social landscape, and it is dangerous.

Why do we give in and practice bullshit? Everyone now has a microphone, and we are encouraged to use it. We are more connected than ever through social media, and there is the expectation that we have to hold a position on every issue. Whether we are informed or not. Bullshit is a trap we fall into when we don’t know what we’re talking about. We make something up which fits how we feel instead of how things are.

Certainty is Comfortable

Certainty provides us comfort in our increasingly uncertain world. It gives us a sense of control. We don’t have to go through the vulnerable and uncertain process of admitting we are ignorant, which is the only way to start getting curious about an issue.

We also know that in our interconnected world that there is some tribe, somewhere, that will support our position. We are empowered to reject anything. There is a community of people who, in 2018, believe the earth is flat. They won’t accept any science as rebuttal, instead choosing to burrow deeper into a demonstrably false conspiracy theory.

These situations are dangerous because they lead some people to believe that there is no objective truth. It’s too difficult to get to the facts through all the bullshit, so instead some just give up. This becomes an urgent threat to our way of life and the concept of enlightenment, which requires objective inquiry to provide us benefits from science, technology, and sound governance.

With Us or Against Us

Often issues will be painted in Us vs. Them terms. Brene notes that both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton used this language when making a case for the war in Iraq. “You’re either with us or against us (or with the enemy)” is an emotion-based appeal, which makes it difficult to counter.

When anyone uses this language, it should set off alarm bells. In this situation we have to refuse to take sides and instead challenge the framing of the debate. We must gather our courage and state that we disagree, but that doesn’t make us the enemy. In order to be true to yourself, to let your authentic humanity shine through, we have to call “bullshit” on being told we must conform to a singular position or be banished from the tribe.

This may be one of the most challenging positions we take. We are being threatened with belonging. Brene argues, however, that it’s a cheap trick to get us to fit in. Once we acknowledge that our true belonging comes from within, and that we have the right to be ourselves, we can challenge such arguments.

Effectively Countering Bullshit

Since the 2016 election, Americans have been defaulting to an “If you don’t agree, you have no place here” mentality. This not only stifles productive debate and discussion, but avoids doing the hard work of sitting with pain and discomfort to look for better solutions and common ground. We all have to live together. We need to start treating our friends, neighbors and family members better.

We can begin to counter bullshit by creating a safer environment for the discussion to take place. This requires being generous. Usually bullshit comes from a place of fear, ignorance and uncertainty, not ill intent. If we extend generosity around the discussion by indicating that we aren’t trying to pass judgment or win an argument, people will feel safer in expressing their true feelings and thoughts.

It is important to speak truth, but we must do so with civility. I have family members who voted for Trump. Instead of berating them or cutting them off, I got really curious about why they voted that way. I stayed in a mindset of “I love you, our vision is similar, but how we think we should get there is different.” Stay in your integrity. Be firm but respectful. Thank the other person for being willing to have a conversation with you. This opens the door to future discussions, and makes them more receptive to your point of view.

The High Cost of Bullshit

When we embrace or accept bullshit in order to “fit in”, we lose our integrity. This is more than just taking the high road. Our integrity, staying true to our values, is our font of self-respect and self-love. When we choose bullshit over truth we betray our deeper selves. If we no longer act with integrity and accordance with our values, we will begin to feeling loathing toward ourselves. We will think that our innermost self is weak and false. This self-loathing will unravel our capacity to be vulnerable.

This is not an easy path to walk. We are surrounded by an overwhelming amount of bullshit on a daily basis. But to save ourselves, the only option is truth and generosity of spirit to foster civility. We may lose people along the way but this choice leads to a life of integrity and self-worth. We must gather our courage to shape ourselves and our world into one which values truth. We need it now more than ever.

Being civil and speaking truth is critical. But our most pressing human need is connection. We discuss the importance of showing up in the next post:

Part IV: Hold Hands. With Strangers coming soon

Read the entire Braving the Wilderness series:

Braving the Wilderness: Introduction

Part I: The Quest for True Belonging

Part II: People are Hard to Hate Close Up: Move In

Part V: Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart coming soon

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