By Mary Shippy
Bulls%!# or Truth
“Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.” – H. Frankfurt
I was recently reading Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness, and got stuck in the 5th chapter entitled, “Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.” What I initially loved about this chapter was finding that there is a book called On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt, and that I can order it on Amazon. Later, I realized what haunts me most about this chapter is feeling that there is a battle going on in our country, and in our organizations, that pits BS against Truth. In his book, Frankfurt defines some of the main characteristics of bullshit. Brené Brown summarizes Frankfurt’s thoughts this way; First, “…is that lying is defiance of the truth, and BS is a wholesale dismissal of the truth.” Second, “…we often will rely on BS when we are talking about things we don’t understand.” Finally, “BS has a deeper source; our being skeptical and denying that we can ever know the truth of how things truly are.” (Brown, pg. 90-91)
I would like to say that I never BS!!! And yet the truth is I do bullshit, and I find that very hard to admit. So, what has caused me to disregard the truth? I think most of the time it feels like I am only “spinning” the truth, maybe a bit of “beating around the bush” or “corporate speak.” Mostly, I think I am willing to BS when I am tired, when I want to be liked, when I don’t know the truth, when I don’t want to deal with conflict, or when I want to belong or be accepted. Ultimately my experience with bullshit has led me to see repeatedly that BS breaks trust within relationships, companies, and countries. When trust breaks down there is no more conversation, only the taking of sides. Once BS is uncovered, civility is often lost, and broken trust escalates with feelings of betrayal.
Broken trust in work environments costs productive energy and engagement. Broken trustworthiness in a leader most often leads to turnover and disengagement. Broken trust in companies leads to bankruptcy and lawsuits; just read the latest on Equifax. Plenty of books and research back this up: The Speed of Trust by Covey, The Thin book of Trust by Feltman, How the Mighty Fall by Collins, Why Smart Executives Fail by Finkelstein, and the previously mentioned On Bullshit by Frankfurt.
The question in all of this for us goes deep into our leadership souls. Am I a trustworthy person? Maybe more importantly, how will I choose to define truth, convey the truth, and stand in the truth? According to the dictionary, “trustworthy” is defined as “the ability to be relied on as honest or truthful.” Navigating these waters today, where a storm is undermining the truth as we have historically known, seems up for grabs. Words like integrity, uprightness, honor, morality, ethics, principles, right-mindedness, reliability, dependability, sincerity, and candor are disappearing. Being a truth teller becomes tricky, to say the least, and downright traitorous and lonely, to say the most.
As a company owner, a leader, a friend, and a citizen of the world, I want to be known as a truth bearer…not a BSer. I am the first to admit that I have spun the truth in my life, and when I look at why, it is mostly because I wanted to be liked or to belong. Honestly, sometimes it just felt easier. Has it been worth it? I am going tell you, NO. It has kept me awake at night justifying, spinning in my head, making excuses why, and even giving me headaches and stomachaches. I think we need more standard bearers in our world today. I know I want to stand on the side of what has historically been known as truth and be defined by honor, ethics, principles, candor, and integrity even in some cultures that don’t always uphold it. How about you?