So Far, So Good

In The Magnificent Seven, a few brave cowboys volunteer to protect a small town from the gruesome exploitations of a predatory industrialist. Hopelessly outnumbered, they stare at the village they’ve vowed to defend and muse about their minuscule chances of victory. One gang member asks Josh Faraday, a skilled gunman, what he thinks about their odds. Faraday responds with a story:

Reminds me of this fella I used to know. Fell off a five-story building. As he passed each floor on the way down, people inside heard him say: “So far, so good!

He’s dead now.

The scene makes for a good chuckle among the rest of the gang and the audience, but it also holds a piece of advice that’s much deeper than a grim sense of humor: As the saying goes, hope dies last – but it must not die before you do. It is the last thing to enter the picture, but once it does, it must never, never run out – right until the very, true, actual end.

Sometimes, life will push you into unwinnable battles. No one likes the prospect of losing, but we mustn’t let prospects become prophesies. Many a foregone conclusion has been turned around, and while, yes, hope is what you do at the end, that does not mean you get to stop hoping before you hit the ground.

Considering his impending doom, Faraday checks in with Sam, a friend he is indebted to. “Have I made good on my horse yet, Sam?” Keeping his eyes on the horizon, Sam simply says: “So far, so good.” And off into battle they ride.

Even Unconditional Love Is a Choice

The first time I blacked out from drinking, I stayed at a friend’s place. I puked on the dance floor, and, after my friend had stored me horizontally in the backseat of his car for a few hours, I woke up on his couch the next day. I was embarrassed, sure, but given all the funny stories my friends told me, I didn’t feel all that bad about it.

The second time I blacked out from drinking, my friends brought me straight back to my mother. Somewhere in the haze of semi-conscious memories, I remember her sitting next to me on my bed, holding me and patting my back while I sat there with a bowl, waiting to throw up, stammering: “Never again. Never again. Never again.”

That second time is where blacking out went from almost being cool to being something I am so deeply ashamed and vulnerable about that, to this day, I cringe every time I recount any one of my unfortunately-more-than-two blackout events, even when I think the situation is important enough to go out on this limb in the first place.

The difference is unconditional love: Someone who loves me (and who I love in return) was extremely worried for my wellbeing, all because of actions I had taken. Despite having every reason to admonish me and letting me face the pain alone so I might learn a lesson, they set themselves aside and helped me anyway. That’s unconditional love.

We always say parents can’t help but feel unconditional love for their children, but as many a wealthy yet emotionally scarred heir proves, it is actually a choice – a choice you’ll have to make again and again.

The third time I blacked out from drinking, I landed in the hospital. I was all alone. I woke up straight into a Bourne movie, with shadows passing me in the hallway where I was parked on a stretcher, a kind nurse handing me a bottle of water, my phone at 10% battery, and my jacket and wallet missing. It was the scariest situation in my entire life, and if my mom had been there, she’d have done the same but different: Help me get home, help me get healthy, then remind me to not drink too much.

Unconditional love will have to look different every time you choose to give it. There can be no conditions to your offering it, sure, but the conditions under which you offer it will differ. “I’m going to help you through this, or we’ll both die trying.” That’s the kind of deal you’re making, and at such crazy terms, it surely is a choice.

You can’t turn on some unconditional love switch, and kindness will keep flowing forever. Even for the most smitten parents, that only lasts so long. Humans change dramatically on their own accord, and when you factor in outside factors, like how others changing changes us, you’ll see that whoever you choose to love, you’ll have to keep choosing to love them through a million changes and then some.

It’s a nice idea, this “unconditional love forever,” and I’m sure in a few rare cases, it both works and lasts. For us mere mortals, however, the choice offers freedom: You don’t have to be enlightened to love. You can do it imperfectly.

Your love needn’t be unconditional each time. Sometimes, the very conditionality of it is what makes it human. Fragile. Precious. Like us – especially when we’re too drunk to find our way home, in dire need of someone who’ll choose to love us against the odds.

The “against-the-odds” part makes unconditional love more special, not less. Beat the odds whenever you can, but don’t blame yourself when you can’t. It’s hard work, lifting someone out of the gutter. You can only do it so many times before you’ll start falling down yourself.

When the Truth Isn’t Acceptable

If you ask 100 people on the street whether truth is important, most, if not all, will agree. Yet, as any adult eventually finds out, knowing the truth is hard. We have much less access to it than we’d like, and often, once we discover some truth, or rather, accumulate it, we choose not to share it. Right under the rug it goes, because truth is not just important – it is also dangerous.

Truth makes us vulnerable in front of those who don’t see it, and offensive to those who don’t believe it. Significant words have consequences. That’s what makes them significant. So, what are we to do? What if the truth isn’t acceptable?

Two follow-up questions: First, what kind of truth are we talking about? Is it a truth of fact or a truth of feeling? A universal, observable principle or a shared understanding we must first agree on? This is the first of two elements determining the stakes of your honesty.

Galileo was right about heliocentrism, but, just shy of being burned at the stake, he spent the last decade of his life under house arrest for it. “Black Lives Matter” is a social debate rather than a physical one, and yet, arguing about its specifics can get you shot in the wrong neighborhood.

While it’s easier to use data to petition for a truth of fact than one of feeling, emotions are what keeps the mob holding on to their pitch forks. So either way, you’ll have to decide: How do you want to play this, and are you willing to play it down to save your skin if need be? Changing the course of history requires sacrifice, but how often do we really get a chance to do it? Pick your battles wisely, and make sure you fight in the right arena to begin with.

The second question of an unacceptable truth is “Unacceptable to whom?” Is it internal or external validation that you seek?

A new model of gravity doesn’t help the world if you don’t share it, but if you feel treated unfairly by your business partner, maybe that’s an issue to be solved in the mirror rather than a courtroom.

Sure, you can debate racism in refugee movements on Twitter all day long, but is there any importance to who you’re trying to convince? Not everyone can turn every truth into a purpose, and unless we can rally the supporters we need (or feel we must die trying), we might be better off continuing our search for the truth we know we can – and simply can’t help but – champion.

The hardest part, as always, is to admit we’ve confused feeling for fact and unawareness for injustice: The truth is a truth we’ve forged within, and it remains as malleable as ever, if only we dare reheat the iron.

“I’m a bad singer.” “I love this person.” “I’m addicted to alcohol.”

Much more so than hidden scientific discoveries or oppression from the establishment, we hold ourselves back with the stories we keep replaying in our heads. Unless it’s a law of physics or public make-or-break moment (which, today, nothing really is), however, the truth about ourselves is whatever we choose to believe – and we can change what we believe.

Replace “That’s unacceptable” with “That’s me,” and suddenly, you have a dialogue where there used to be only judgment. Sure, drinking three beers a day isn’t healthy, but it’s also a behavior you can change, no matter how real the habit might be right now; no matter how inevitable the current truth feels.

Honor the truth of fact whenever you find your pockets are full of it. Probe the truth of feeling until you’re sure you’ve got it by the collar. Defend the important ones with everything you have, and, most importantly, remember that every single thing, thought, idea, opinion, belief, and habit you carry inside yourself is something you have chosen – and you can un-choose it anytime.

Through Wrong to Right

There’s an old Indian saying: “Jab sab galat ho raha ho, tab sab sahi ho raha hai.” According to Asha from Snowpiercer, it means: “When everything goes wrong, perhaps it’s setting itself right.”

If you dislocate your shoulder, the medic will warn you before he pops it back in: “This might hurt.” A CEO realizing she took the wrong strategic turn may have to fire an entire department.

It doesn’t always have to get worse before it’ll get better, but when you feel it getting worse without knowing where it’ll lead, have a little faith: The switches might still be adjusting, but there’s a chance the train will soon be back on track.

The Best or the Rest?

People say, “My partner brings out the best in me,” but does your main feature really need encouragement? Doesn’t it shine bright already, “it” being the skill, the value, the principle you most clearly embody and most proudly uphold?

Sure, our loved ones will always provide extra wind beneath our wings, but spreading them so we might fly in the first place? That’ll always be our own job. A supportive family won’t hinder your relentless quest to become the League of Legends world champion, but they can’t press the buttons for you.

Whatever is “the best of you,” it’ll be the magnet attracting those you’ll hold dearest. Once the ones you love have arrived, however, their task won’t be to maintain it. Instead, the people who love you back will bring out the rest of you. They’ll widen the spotlight, flooding your life with sunshine, until there’s enough room for your every idiosyncracy.

What’s special about our most unique connections is that they allow us to be our whole selves instead of – as many more functional relationships in our lives do – forcing us further into a few narrow roles only to be performed when called upon. They free us without fleeing from us, and, in exchange, we extend them the same courtesy.

“It’s okay to contradict yourself. It’s okay to play many parts – or none at all.” Few experiences feel more liberating than letting the liquid of who we are stretch as far as it may, especially without the fear of having to put it back into its bottle.

It’s nice that your family brings out the best in you. They should. Just make sure they also bring out the rest of you, because if you can’t feel whole somewhere in life, you may as well never have been whole at all. That would be a tragedy, because, this I know for a fact, you are.

Long Destined Relationships

That’s what they must be. Usually, the “D “stands for distance, but sooner or later, that stuff will kill you.

You have to pick a destiny – or at least a destination. Humans who love each other aren’t meant to be apart. So don’t be. That’s why we have planes.

And if the inevitable move together is difficult, which I assure you it will be, you replace the plane with a plan. Which step when? Are we still on track? On track to go home?

Love is the best thing we do, but there’s no love truer than a smile across the table. Don’t let the ones you want to share it with wait for too long.

The 2 Kinds of Truth

When the waitress tells you there aren’t any tables available, but you can book one online for 15 minutes later, did the waitress lie, or was she just misinformed? Unless she admits to it, you’ll never know, but according to Harry Frankfurt, you can file this incident under “B” regardless: The waitress tried to bullshit you.

Whether the waitress lied on purpose or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that she didn’t care about the truth at all. She just wanted to say something, anything, to appease you and, in this case, make you go away. Both honesty and lying respect the truth insofar that they either adhere to it or deliberately stray from it. A bullshitter has no such lofty aspirations. As long as what they say pleases the crowd, the truth can be whatever.

Frankfurt finds bullshit offensive. It is an insidious attack on the truth, much worse than mere manipulations of it, for even the worst liar at least uses the truth as the clay from which they form their fragile constructions.

The kind of truth Frankfurt talks about is the truth of facts, physics, and our observable universe. It is the first of two species of veracity. Grade 1 truth, if you will. From the waitress example to politicians denying climate change to line their own pockets to the leader of a country invading another and saying, “They hit us first!” there is no shortage of attempts to undermine grade 1 truth today.

The other kind, grade 2 truth, is less black-or-white but at least as important: It’s the kind of truth shared between two people – a reality multiple parties must agree on for it to be true in the first place. “I love you” only means something when the person who hears it believes it. You can’t argue with someone who says they feel treated unfairly, but you can develop a shared definition of “fair” and strike a deal that lives up to it.

Grade 2 truth must always be seeded by one party, and doing so can feel no less dangerous than calling out a bullshitter. What if you raise your hand for a high five that never happens? You’ll stand there, feeling stupid, embarrassed, and ashamed.

If the audience watching the spotlight you step into agrees, however, grade 2 truth can be our ultimate bliss. Love, friendship, family, being part of a team – the most impactful experiences we’ll ever have are built around grade 2 truths. Who else thinks diets are silly? Who loves anime as much as you do? Who shares your appreciation of punctuality? Find the people who hold your values, and you’ll find a loyal crew that’ll last you a lifetime.

Neither grade 1 nor grade 2 truths are necessarily fixed, although where grade 1 truths might evolve with or without our doing, grade 2 truths will always be in flux. Every action leads to a reaction, and so whichever agreed-upon balls hang in the air between us and our partner, our son, or our coworker, we must constantly check what state they are in. We must maintain them and, often, change them before they drop to the floor and break – for if we lose too many connections with one another, we’ll lose the connection between us altogether.

“If you have the truth, you know what reality is like. If you don’t, you’re ignorant of reality,” Frankfurt says. “We live in the real world. We depend upon it. We need to know about it. We need to be able to find our way around in it, and if we don’t have the truth, then we can’t do those things.”

Not all truth is created equal, but all truth is equally important. There is no lactose-free version of either kind, and if we pretend there is or try to make it look that way, well, then we may as well be a waiter claiming to have no tables left – and that’s just bullshit.

Trial by Life

That’s the only one we’ll get. Sometimes life will be fire; sometimes life will be fun. Trial by torn ACL might follow trial by six-figure speaking gig, and trial by loneliness might result in trial by your greatest relationship yet.

There’s a lot in this word, isn’t there? “Trial.” Try all. Try it free for 30 days. Don’t worry if you don’t like something. It’s a trial, after all. Then again, a trial means you’ll be judged. You’re on trial with every action, and every day, life will find a new way for you to be tried.

A trial can be a temptation, but it can also mean redemption. You’ll have to prove yourself! Not just your innocence, courage, or good intent. Everything! Every single thing you want to be true about your story, you’ll have to make happen. And not just once either. Always.

Every day you are alive, you are afforded a new chance to be the person you’ll want to have been when the music stops. Another open floor to prove yourself. Another try. Will you take it? Will you jump on it? Are you willing to sweep yesterday’s attempt into the bin and start over? Will you stay committed to the important failures until they become successes?

Whoever the person is you were born to materialize in this life, will you keep showing up until we can all see them as clearly as you can feel them in your heart right now? That’s the real test. The one and only trial we’re on.

Godspeed, and remember: Today the jury might condemn you, but tomorrow, they could set you free – and if you ever wonder what they’re thinking, all you have to do is look into the mirror.

The Thing About Advice

When you need it the most is when you are least able to assess its value. If you could, you wouldn’t need to ask for advice! There are many paths out of a dark valley, but which one’s the right one for you tends to be hard to see not because you don’t know it, but because it’s dark.

That’s why well-meaning friends may offer us a reasonable yet totally ill-fitted solution to our situation, and we’ll ride right off the next cliff. Their advice was the best they could give, but our temporarily flawed sense of judgment prevented us from realizing it was not the right tip for us.

As a corollary, we rarely seek advice when we’re doing well, even though that’s when we have all the time and wits to judge each recommendation based on its own merit to our unique situation. We wait until we’re back at rock bottom, and the random help roulette starts anew.

Don’t wait to seek help until you’re so desperate you can barely see what kind of help you’ll need. Draw on friends and mentors regularly, and keep a file of escape plans at hand so that in case of emergency, you can keep calm and break the right glass.

Lactose-Free Truth

If you ask them, most people will tell you they want the truth. That the truth is important – and preferable to a lie at all times.

In reality, most people want what they want, and whatever that thing may be – more money, a better job, less stress, more sex, a loving partner, a bigger house – if the truth doesn’t help them attain it, they couldn’t care less about it.

That’s why bullshit, defined by philosopher Harry Frankfurt as “saying whatever one must say to get away with it,” has become so pervasive in our culture. It’s not just that lies, half-truths, and whatever opinions will satisfy our social circles are efficient yet immoral means to cut corners and fulfill our own desires – it’s that when it comes to their behavior rather than their professed attitude, many people actually prefer bullshit as long as it spares their feelings. Therefore, bullshitters feel like they’re doing both themselves and the world a favor.

No one will thank you for being right when you predict the economy will collapse. No one will thank you for confessing your love if they still won’t end up with you. And no one will give you credit for discovering the fatal flaw in the product when the company goes belly-up regardless.

Lactose-free truth. That’s what people would like. “Gimme the milk without the sugar, please.” Well, there is no diet version of truth. You’ll get the whole thing or none at all. Are you ready to swallow a toad if that’s what comes out of the wrapper? That’s what it really takes to say you want the truth and mean it: The courage to face the unknown without reassurance.

A sincere commitment to the truth is also a commitment to pain, failure, and frustration. It is a guarantee that life will blow up in your face, and that, sometimes, you’ll have to be the one pressing the detonator. That’s hard. It’ll be hard. It’s one of the toughest commitments you’ll ever make, and so it should be no surprise that most people take a long time to get ready for it, if they ever do.

And yet, deep down, underneath our superficial desire for sugar-free integrity, I think we all know: Honesty may not always lead to our metaphorical survival, but in every human’s life, there’ll be a time when the truth matters more than self-preservation. Whenever that time comes, please, promise me you’ll serve the real drink. Proper medicine often tastes bitter, but it’ll still work in time – even if, initially, it hits us right in the stomach.