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.

Ode to the Concentrated Mind

Let’s say your forehead is 10 mm by 100 mm. That’s 1,000 mm². Each square millimeter is an exit point for your thoughts on a particular subject. If you daydream about ice cream, that thought exits through square #37. If you mull over an email response to a friend, that’s gate #109. Each thought is a tiny burst of light, so depending on what you think about, different “pixels” on your forehead will flicker and start glowing. 

When your mind is all over the place, your forehead lights up in various colors. It looks like a disco floor, but the overall glow is faint. You’re dedicating single thoughts to many different topics. This makes your mind hard to read. Others can’t identify what’s important to you. Worse, however, it means you’re not making progress. You’re not zoned in on what matters. There’s a steady, shallow amount of energy being emitted, but it doesn’t go very far because it’s spread too thin.

Now imagine you’re focused on a single project — writing a book, finishing a document, or shipping a course. All your thoughts leave through a single gateway. What happens to rays of light when you bundle them? They turn into a beam! Suddenly, square #555 lights up in bright red. All the other pixels go dark. Everyone can see where you’re headed, and your bright, singular LED illuminates the path in front of you. 

As you get into a flow state, each thought about your destination begets another thought in the same direction. It’s a self-reinforcing reaction — the marvelous chemistry of focus. If you can keep the loop feeding on itself long enough, your emissions of mental energy won’t just be bundled, they’ll become coherent. Creative sparks will fly from your brain, each one adding more spectral power to your unique purpose, your sole objective. Coherence is how light turns into a laser, and those can travel very far. An everyday laser pointer can mark a target up to one kilometer away, even in complete darkness. It draws on its own mechanism for stimulation — and so does the concentrated mind.

A concentrated mind penetrates an indifferent universe to create its own reality. It relentlessly moves forward until the goal has been achieved.

A concentrated mind burns distractions like a sunlit magnifying glass incinerates grass. It feeds them to the steam engine of progress, each one another coal in the fire, another sacrifice to keep the flames of creativity alive.

A concentrated mind is not afraid of missing out. It understands the compounding rewards of boredom and frustration. It tolerates them as necessities — until they pay off and become, in time, their very own form of compensation.

A concentrated mind is unbound by clock and calendar. It eats when it’s hungry, moves when it’s eager, and sleeps when it’s tired. It does not conform to the world’s agenda nor bow to the crowdsourced to-do list we call our email inbox. The concentrated mind goes at its own pace. Therefore, it is always in the right place at the right time.

A concentrated mind is calm, quiet, and patient. It resists each next impulse, choosing emptiness over empty activity. When the terror of silence subsides, it makes way for serenity. Both come and go in waves, and the concentrated mind abides.

A concentrated mind is all-in on making, not marketing. It knows that great work spreads on its own accord. The concentrated mind trusts that once its contributions are so irresistibly useful, entertaining, or inspiring that people can’t help themselves but share, the world will pass them around in an everlasting cycle. Therefore, the concentrated mind aims the full force of its laser at its creations — and finds solace in this soleness of focus.

A concentrated mind turns any experience into its own fuel. It draws energy from the positive — but not all of it. It rations happy memories so it can rely on them in times of need. The concentrated mind persists, but more importantly, it perseveres. It uses acceptance, resilience, and resolve to sculpt the negative into a stepping stone — perhaps not the most stable of stairs, but at least one that won’t give way beneath its feet. This way, the concentrated mind can always keep walking.

A concentrated mind is content, for the letters of the latter are a natural subset of the former. It is always failing or succeeding on the path towards its most important goal, but either way, the walking — the working — is enough — because the good days will always be good, and the bad days will always mean something if they lie on the road to something meaningful.

Here’s to the concentrated mind. It is the source of progress, connection, and fulfillment. May your forehead shine brightly as it announces your aspirations to the world. May your every thought flow into the unbreakable laser beam set on sharing, igniting, realizing the light of your good intentions from which it emanates. May your flow stay focused, your creativity coherent, and your consciousness keep calm. May any experience add rather than subtract, until your mere existence illuminates the night sky like the sun driving out the dark. May you find the ultimate, gentle, self-sustaining power available to the human species. May you become a concentrated mind.

The Right Kind of Hurt

It is never fun to inflict pain on someone, even if you know it’s a consequence of doing the right thing.

It helps to remember that everyone is already in pain one way or another. Maybe your courage, honesty, and clarity will finally help them find the right kind – the root pain they can focus on to resolve a lot of other, secondary ills.

There are many flavors of hurt, and to keep growing, we need to swallow the right bitter pill at the right time. It’s not easy to be a doctor when you know the medicine tastes bad, but if we choose the potions we hand one another to the best of our ability, at least we can take comfort in having tried our best at treating the disease rather than the symptoms.

Owning 100% of Your Stock

Let’s say you love Nintendo. You love their consoles, their games, and their characters. You love it so much, you want to own a piece of it. So one day, you buy some Nintendo stock. The stock goes up, and you buy some more. You buy more and more as it goes up and up until you realize: You own the whole company. Somehow, you’ve managed to accumulate 100% of Nintendo’s stock. Huh. That’s kinda cool.

Of course, as soon as you become aware of your happy accident, the stock starts going down. It loses 10%, 20%, 30%, and you watch your baby lose its wings. What happened? What’s going on?

Being a responsible owner, you decide to investigate. As it turns out, the baby you’ve adopted is quite big. There are thousands of employees all over the world. Nintendo has countless departments, a vast array of products, and more games in the pipeline than you can keep track of. Hmm. What can you do?

As anyone in charge of a ship too large to steer by one person’s hand alone, you’ll have to lead from the top. How do you want Nintendo employees to behave? What do you want them to work on? How much rest will you afford them? Which environment will bring out the best of them? What products may fall by the wayside, and what principles and projects absolutely cannot be compromised?

You’ll have to answer those questions, and then you’ll have to spread the word as best as you can. You’ll never reach everybody, but if you reach the majority, maybe it’ll be enough to turn the ship around.

You already own 100% of a great enterprise’s stock, you know? That enterprise is you. Like any actual company, the business of you is about a lot more than money. It’s not just costs and profits and the share price, but if you want the long-term trend to be up, you’ll have to lead from the top – because in owning 100% of your stock, you too have inherited a grown, complex organism with many individual parts.

Not all of those parts will always behave the way you’ll want them to. There’ll be crossed wires, well-intentioned wrong turns, and unnecessary detours. There’ll be times of low productivity, bad effects from the outside, and compromises of things that should not be compromised.

In the end, however, you’ll have to decide again and again: “Will I give up on this endeavor entirely, just because of one dysfunctional part?” And again and again, I hope you’ll give the same answer: “No, of course not. I still own 100% of something wonderful. The best stock in the world.”

No matter how many times a friend quits, a project flops, or the market rejects you, it’ll never be too late to dust yourself off, try a new part, and lead from the top.

The Drama Is in Your Head

It’s not the universe sending you bad vibes. It’s your inner demon. The shadow self.

Whatever trauma you carry – and we all carry enough of it to set the world on fire – is curled up into a little ball of chaos, hiding deep inside, biding its time. When it senses you are at your most vulnerable, like a point of infinite density finally spewing about its matter, it explodes, and pure mayhem will flow from your very fingertips into the world.

You won’t be able to take a single right step, no matter where you set foot. Loved ones will turn against you. It’ll seem like your mere touch will make plants wither away and die, and, worst of all, you’ll feel unable to contain any of this madness – for it won’t seem to come out of you at all. It’s karma! The wrath of God! A statistically incomprehensible, unduly long stretch of bad luck.

In reality, all you must do is turn off the faucet within. That’s easier said than done, of course. Imagine a fireman shutting down a hydrant gone haywire, or a small ferry trying to break a 100-foot wave. “Gnnaaahhh! Stop!”

The hardest battles are the ones we fight inside, and yet, once the valve finally closes, it’ll seem like peace was never gone. The meadow is calm, the cows are grazing, and the sound of crickets and birds fills the air. “How the hell could that have been so hard?” We might never find the answer to this mystery, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that we keep fighting.

At least now, you know where to look. The next time the world begins to fall apart, don’t seek without. Venture within, and regardless how gruesome the struggle with your shadow doppelganger, once you win – and you will – peace shall be restored.

Are the Birds Still Singing?

As long as they are, everything will be okay. To see if the birds are still singing, you must first open the window. Poke your head out, breathe in some fresh air, and realize you’re not the only person left on planet earth.

At some other time, in some other place, someone else, too, forgot about the birds. They did not know what they would wake up to in the morning, or if the night would ever end at all. Alas, eventually, they found themselves at the window, and against all odds, curiosity got the better of them.

“Is that really the chirp of a sparrow? Or am I just imagining things? Let me double-check, just to be sure.” It is a matter of survival, this can’t-help-it impulse, and once the glass swings open, the entire world comes to our aid.

Where there are birds, there are trees, and with trees come dogs and, usually not far behind, people. Oh, it is quite busy, this place you felt must be abandoned, and while business does not always signify good, it does always hold the potential for it.

Leave the window open. Get more rest if you need it, but don’t shut out the song of infinite tomorrows – for today you might be silent, but on one of those tomorrows you’ll be the one singing.

Honesty Is Not Always the Best Policy

But it is always the honest policy.

Sometimes, honesty creates hurt, and sometimes, that hurt is created for no reason other than being honest.

The question is will you still choose honesty if it’s not to your benefit? What if it, in fact, may very well lead to your demise? Will you choose honesty to help others over helping yourself?

That’s the true conundrum behind honesty as a policy – it is not always the best one but always the right one, and sometimes, what’s right is very bad for us.