Radical Honesty and Your Shadow Side: Authenticity in the Age of Artificiality Part 2
Approximate Read Time: 12 minutes
“We have never been more in the thrall of human nature and its destructive potential than now, and by ignoring this fact we are playing with fire. The permeability of our emotions has only been heightened by social media where viral effects are continuously sweeping through us and where the most manipulative leaders are able to exploit and control us. Look at the aggression that is now openly displayed in the virtual world where it is so much easier to play out our shadow side without repercussions. Notice how our propensities to compare ourselves with others, to feel envy, and to seek status through attention have only become intensified with our ability to communicate so quickly with so many people. And finally, look at our tribal tendencies and how they have now found the perfect medium to operate in. We can find a group to identify with, reinforce our tribal opinions in a virtual echo chamber, and demonize any outsiders leading to mob intimidation. The potential for mayhem, stemming from the primitive side of our nature has only increased.” –Robert Greene
When I first began dating my wife, Neely, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. We were falling in love and spent most of our time together, there. It was intimate, cozy and not conducive to hiding bowel movements. So I never used my own toilet. There was a bathroom in the apartment main office. I’d tell Neely I was going to get my mail and then be gone for however long nature required. Neely never commented on the length of my absence. She must have just assumed they kept the mailboxes behind an obstacle course or at a secure location across town. Or maybe she was all too thrilled to have a moment to use the restroom, herself.
IHD’s mission is to challenge destructive norms while striving towards truth and the principles of human thriving. I deeply value honesty and truth. Despite that, I’ve begun to notice that I lie all the time. At work, I’ll embellish the time I’ve put into a project. When I lead teams in workouts, I tend to create the illusion that I’ve invested great energy in each detail and specification of this exact days training session—as if it is some grand masterpiece perfectly calculated for the needs of this specific point in each athletes’ life. While I certainly didn’t just slap the program together, I’ve been doing this a while and the training principles really aren’t that complex for anyone who works with them on a daily basis.
At home I’ll exaggerate my presence as I clean the kitchen, clanging pots and drawing out every circular swipe of the wash rag, but I shrink as I pull open my laptop to make notes for my book. When Neely suggests taking the kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade I smile and let her know that this is a great idea. But inside I’m thinking, That’s during Ace’s nap. He’s going to be crazy for days. We insist on complete honesty, but I’m clearly operating with a degree of deception. Despite my disdain for being manipulated, I am constantly maneuvering to project an image. What a slimy revelation.
In my last piece, I negatively portrayed the posturing and image curation that defines our age of artificiality. My goal over this article series is to embrace a richer, more fulfilling and honest reality. Yet, as my actions illuminate, to some degree, we will always be acting and hiding our less-manicured impulses—our shadow side. What’s important is that this does not bend into self-deception. There is a lot more to this shadow side than most realize. Today we’ll get to know it better and, maybe even decide that all that acting is entirely unnecessary. After all, we all poop.
You Aren’t So Perfect
“That which you most need will be found where you least want to look.” –Carl Jung
If you remember my last article, you’ll remember that you are going to die. We explore this truth, because, it brings an urgency and appropriate valuation of your days that promotes authentic living. As philosopher Alan Watts observed: “Just as manure fertilizes the plants… so the contemplation of death is very highly generative of creative life.” You are worm food, before you know it. Fully immersed in this liberating truth, you can turn your attention to the pursuits that truly matter.
Watts contends that you get wonderful revelations from, first, contemplating your own mortality and, second, following “the possibility of the idea that you are totally selfish—that you don’t have a good thing to be said for you at all.” If you begin to look at your every action through this lens, regardless of how externally altruistic, it becomes clear that we can almost always find a selfish reason for our actions. Perhaps it is not the only motive, but the selfish motive is there. Be open to it.
You may be thinking, “No way. Last night I gave my wife the bigger, better sweet potato. I wanted it. This was pure altruism.” But, dig. What selfish motives might have lurked underneath. Did you want her to notice? If so, why did you want her to notice? So she would think you put her first? Why did you want her thinking that? The deeper you go the more you’ll discover about who you are and what drives you. Maybe you didn’t care if she noticed. Did this help you confirm to yourself that you are a self-sacrificing person? Why was that important for you to do for yourself? Dig deep in this manner and you’ll pull back layers revealing more about your truest self.
We love ourselves and seek to elevate our position constantly. Even the selfless community service worker is often driven by a selfish motive—social identity, getting into heaven, appearing morally superior, or the sense of community they’ve found in such work and meeting the expectations of that community. This is our nature and, thus, we cannot feel badly for it. The roots of behavior don’t matter, so long as they are farsightedly constructive. We all have a shadow side pulling us towards many actions. If we don’t recognize and explore that side, we know far less about ourselves and are far more susceptible to manipulation and the worst manifestations of this shadow.
Now explore a less flattering time when you did not live up to your own values. You’ve done things you yourself judge as immoral or beneath you. There are reasons and bubbling below those reasons are more reasons. By digging and digging through all those drives that pull you from meeting your own expectation you’ll discover a darker shadow lurking behind each action.
I value humility. Open almost any article and soon, my book, and you’ll see as I lambast runaway narcissism as one of the more insidious forces destroying individuals and our social fabric. Yet, my wife has frequently, and accurately, called me on a propensity to speak in judgmental tones. I’ve always justified this as the consequence of having clear values that I would not compromise to a crazy world. But there is more here.
Up through college I had a real problem with putting other people down when they threatened my sense of superiority. Disagreements were zero sum contests eliciting my most primal kill or be killed instincts. There was no room for interpretation and I had no desire to find truth. The only object was to convince everyone that I was right. Sport was the same. Zero sum. Be the best or be angry. When sport was over I lifted like crazy, obsessed with throwing on slabs of muscle. I wanted to be the strongest guy in the room. The one no one wanted to mess with, even though I could hardly reach my stiff arms overhead. Today, that insecurity is gone and I’m far healthier for it, but the same source still burns. The more I pull back layers the more I see that, to my core, I truly want to be better than people. I want to be superior. Understanding that darkness allows me to channel it more constructively.
Pick Better Metrics
According to Tony Robbins, every human has four needs of the personality: certainty, variety, love/connection, and significance. All these needs are met one way or another. Of these, we all have a chief need. Mine is significance, but I will call it by its less flattering name: superiority. To deny this need is to invite its worst manifestations. There is no stopping me from wanting to be the best. Thus, how I measure that is what matters.
There are extremely destructive manifestations of the pursuit for superiority: fascism, murder, bullying, the politically correct call-out culture, going in debt acquiring status symbols, seeking more sexual conquests, or even spending too much energy timing out your protein shakes so you fully appreciate the results of that bi-tri superset. Do you even lift, bro?
Yet, there are also immensely beneficial ends born of this same need: hard work, charitable donations, a propensity to pick up litter, exercising restraint, and standing against popular opinion for a cause worth fighting for. It is all about how you define superiority. The same underlying need that pulls some parents into over-coddling, over-protecting, and creating learned helplessness, drives others to envision a more inspiring autonomy-driven path full of learning, exploration, and expectations. A need for significance pulled many Germans of the 1940’s into a fervor for world domination, and drove others to risk their lives hiding Jews. Civil disobedience, history’s most successful means of combatting prejudice, is based upon defining the morally superior path and adhering to it with such unflinching consistency that the world has to take note. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. all funneled their needs into this inspired vehicle.
A need for significance could stoke tyranny or simply materialize as a desire to continuously improve oneself. Every shadow drive has this duality which speaks to the need to become familiar with it through thoughtful reflection. Having seen my drives for what they are, I can diffuse the most destructive manifestations and laugh at myself, or others. I don’t feel bad about my love for snarky, condescending comedians. Humor is a revealing, necessary, outlet for the shadow. Something in me relishes watching people call bullshit and point out absurdity. To some degree, I embrace the more benign vices of my shadow. After all, it is a very useful imperfection.
Strength is Born from the Shadow
Our shadow is that capacity for evil that is within us all, but it is also a source of great revelation, strength, and wisdom that allows for much greater good. As Justin illuminated in one of our recent conversations, the absence of evil does not constitute great goodness or even just good. The absence of evil is lobotomy. It is passionless, numbness. Evil is at one extreme and great goodness at the other. The same energy is used to create both. It is us who determines the mission and pulls on the levers in pursuit of those ends.
To create good, you have to be dangerous—not necessarily violent, but capable and powerful. As Psychologist, Dr. Jordan Peterson puts it, “If you aren’t a monster, you cannot negotiate, but if you have that under control, you don’t have to be a monster.” Just a glint of the confident dog behind your eyes allows you to advance your position. You have to know your capacity for harm and be willing to channel it effectively towards great ends.
Unfortunately, today, we rarely have occasion to honestly investigate ourselves. Few experiences force us to take stock, look within, and really get to know ourselves or how we might react in harsh situations. Our survival is virtually guaranteed by large, affluent societies. Rather than challenged, we’re immersed in distraction. Dishonesty, posturing, and self-deception flourish amid a virtual world where we are always buffered from consequences. Most are not dangerous and have no clue what they stand for, making them more dangerous and susceptible to manipulation than ever.
The powerless are outwardly nice, but also naïve, docile, easily influenced, and controlled by fear. They need to go with the flow and will be pawns of the “accepted normal,” whether evil or good. If you were a student at Evergreen State College in May of 2017, the only socially acceptable opinion would be that Dr. Bret Weinstein was a racist pig who needed to be fired. Yet anyone not blinded by social proof could see that this wasn’t only ridiculous, it was a baseless, nasty position to support.
For decades, Evergreen has held a Day of Absence where black students and faculty would choose to stay off campus on a selected day each year so that their contribution was felt. They were, of course, welcome on campus, but most embraced the day and its message. Dr. Bret Weinstein, a progressive liberal professor, always supported this tradition. Yet, when the school flipped the script and began planning a day where white people were not welcome on campus, Weinstein dared to suggest that telling people to stay away because of their race was quite a bit different than celebrating a race’s impact. Weinstein opposed these changes in an email, stating:
"There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the recent Women's Day walkout), and a group encouraging another group to go away…. The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself."
The email was made public and superiority-driven students, eager to gain prestige through vicious outrage, quickly organized incoherent protests. These culminated in a belligerent confrontation of Dr. Weinstein where he, perhaps foolishly, seeks to speak reasonably to his accusers.
Weinstein’s stance, eventually, required he and his wife to resign from the jobs they loved and relocate their family. He knew the campus climate and knew the costs would be high. A deep drive for significance compelled him to defend his principles and take the morally superior position against an angry, illogical mob manifesting the very worst of their own shadows. They either sought to meet a need for significance or connection. Regardless of the drive, mass weakness manifested in a stampede of vicious stupidity.
“And the other thing that’s so interesting about being alive is that you’re all in. No matter what you do you’re all in; this is gonna kill you. So I think you might as well play the most magnificent game you can while you’re waiting. Because, do you have anything better to do, really?” –Jordan Peterson
Safe spaces insulate us from the necessary feedback mechanism that prompts a proportional response. They preclude nuanced thinking, leaving us all a lesser version. They tell us not to explore what must be explored for growth and the pursuit of truth. Without nuance, or differences of opinion, we are dumb.
Amid today’s environment of mass inauthenticity, I propose adopting a policy of radical honesty—to be radically honest with ourselves and in our public personas.
What if you just told the truth every time you were asked anything? What if you didn’t go places you didn’t want to go to keep up presentations that didn’t really matter? What if you just decided to stop living how others want you to and start defining your own path?
I’m sure you know these radical types. They march to the beat of their own drum. They aren’t afraid to be weird or see the world from a different lens. And most of all, they aren’t different for your benefit. They’re just authentic. It’s not in them to bullshit. They are real. They are honest. They want real and honest. They’re never mean or whiny—never needlessly harsh or judgmental just for the sake of a put-down. But don’t ask them a question if you don’t want a straight answer.
We all want to believe we are this type. There is a freedom to this lack of social inhibition. That’s why we crave movie characters who act out our honest shadow drives. We relish watching Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood) tell everyone exactly what he thinks in the movie Gran Torino. We celebrate flawed, honest heroes like Iron Man and Han Solo. They are entirely, honestly themselves. It’s much easier said than done. At the end of the day, we feel rude being honest.
The politically correct dogma of our day is to tell everyone that being nice is the foremost value. On face value, it is hard to argue against. Yet, what we find is a standardless perversion of niceness that too often blends into debilitating learned helplessness and a promotion of delusional narcissism. Our culture demands the protection of feelings and sells the illusion that our self-esteem must be managed delicately. It isn’t nice at all.
By insulating our children from their ignorance and weakness, we keep them infantile. They are blunted tools, too dull to carve their own canyon. Our obsession with feelings precludes exposure to the realities that would push people to confront their demons and grow into a greater version. I don’t advocate mean-spirited put-downs, but we cannot thrive without constructive criticism and the tools for constructive dialogue. If you want people to lie to you, what does that say about you?
Radical honesty is bridging the giant gulf between what we show on the outside and who we are on the inside. Radical Honesty calls bullshit on other people’s standards. We make solutions likely. We make growth likely. There is more short term discomfort with far less long-term pain. Free yourself from the tyranny of phoniness. Be the weirdo. Life is too short to be normal.
Question of the Week
Where have you violated your own expectations? What self-interested reason contributed? Follow this line of questioning as far as you can.