Be selfish. Be good.

Yesterday, my friend Michael posted an article about the (im)morality of piracy. I can’t say how much I respect his lifestyle choice with regards to this. And it’s one reason I’m writing this post.

The other is an article I read about a man who treated his mugger to dinner. No kidding.

Besides the obvious crazy-man sensationalism of the story, why is this important to me? Because it exemplifies the reasons behind my being so honest and trusting. My honesty has ended relationships before (if honesty kills a relationship, it was already doomed), kept me out of jobs and insurance policies, and carried other minor nuisances.

But I refuse to give it up, even if some friends and family may tell me white lies are “good” for relationships. I really don’t believe any lie is good. I’m not just coming from a moral high ground here, either. I honestly believe that living with integrity has a practical purpose. The Golden Rule—treat others as you would like to be treated—can be selfish. I’ll tell you why.

I believe in something called subjective reality. What we think, and what we believe, has a solid impact on our own reality. Hold on, don’t run… I’m not talking about some new-age spiritual philosophy, here. I’m talking about psychology. There are many different aspects to this, but today, I’m going to focus on integrity.

What happens to your interactions with people when you lie? What happens when you begin a relationship on the grounds of mistrust? When you steal? When you cheat? What about when you bad-mouth somebody you hardly know? Think about what goes on in the other person’s mind. If you lie, then they will learn not to trust you. If you steal or cheat, it’s similar. Those are easy.

But what about if you just don’t trust people? This is where the psychology gets interesting. If you start out on a footing of mistrust, then what reason does the other person have to be honest to you other than their own integrity? There’s no trust for them to break. There’s nothing to lose. It’s a no-brainer that the less honest person will lie, cheat, and steal their way over your corpse to get what they want. But if you enter a relationship with a trusting attitude? Now there’s something to lose. There’s a cognitive reason for them to be honest, whether it’s your respect, your repeat business, or simply their own good reputation; and, in the end, there is your relationship to lose.

It’s a similar situation for gossiping and bad-mouthing. Not only will the mud slinger have dug themselves a hole if their gossip or slander is made public, but what kind of first impression does this make? I also wonder why people feel the need to do this. It may very well be a result of the mistrust above; their beliefs have now contributed to their actions, impacting the world and—in return—bringing their own beliefs true. That is the power of subjective reality.

If you want a real world example, I can bring in exhibit A—My dad. The man is as honest a person as I’ve met. He’s also where I learned the value of integrity. But he has one major problem: He doesn’t trust people. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s told me I’m too trusting. He’s told me that people will screw me over at the drop of the hat if I just give them the chance. But I’m not the one who’s been ripped off for thousands of dollars, screwed over by family members, and left with nothing coming out of business deals. Those are all results of my dad’s interactions with people, and his not giving them reason to maintain his trust. He has gotten a lot better over the years, and it can be seen in how much better his dealings with people have become.

Speaking of, how has this worked out for me? Well, let me start with my exact philosophy about trust. When I meet somebody, I take them at face value. I trust everything they say, at least until I can get a feel for their personality and tendency toward red flags like grand-standing and gossip. I’m not naive, and I’m not stupid. But I do like to believe that people are good by nature, until proven otherwise. White lies, I can forgive in others. Black ones are a zero tolerance policy. I uncover one, and the person is exiled from my world. No exceptions. I, in turn, try my best to live by this policy, and I am harsher on myself than on others. After all, what right do I have to hold others to a standard, if I’m not willing to live up to that standard, myself?

Even with the harsh penalty for a real deception, I have only had to truly exile a smattering of people in my life. One for sure, and there are one or two whose side of the story I would like to hear first. I haven’t ever been truly “taken,” when I wasn’t already willing to accept that risk. I am surrounded by love, and I have a lot to give. I have my walls, but trust is not one of them.

So you can judge for yourself. The psychology is there.

Don’t do it for my sake. Don’t do it for society’s. Do it for your own.

Be selfish. Be good.

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8 Responses to Be selfish. Be good.

  1. Stepan says:

    Isn’t coming clean after lying account for anything? Also issue of perception is a hard one to really decompose, almost nobody shares exact same values, so everyone is, on some ground, assumes that the other person is ether misguided, uneducated or lying. The key to any relationship (friendly, romantic, family) is to understand and accept the fact that your perception is not the same as theirs and thats ok.

    I do agree lying is terrible but, if they believe in god while I don’t, I won’t burn them at the stake.I know its not what this post is all about, but just made me think down this parallel.

  2. Chris Hayes says:

    Stepan:

    Coming clean does make up for the lie some, though not entirely. The fact is, the person still lied… and that trust is still damaged, even if there’s been some attempt to repair it. As for perception: Yes everybody’s perception is different, and I don’t hold that against them. But psychology is generally true across humanity, and regardless of perception, your actions impact the way that others perceive and interact with you.

    I don’t hold anybody else’s beliefs, views, or perceptions of reality against them. This is simply the way I approach my interactions with people, and the results I’ve seen from that approach—compared to other approaches, like mistrust and deceit.

  3. SteveO says:

    You’d be sure to win on Survivor, so very easily, and since Survivor is JUST LIKE real life, I guess you’re a winner!

    Seriously though, I believe in trusting, and in being truthful, but I also believe that one need not give 100% disclosure about their life, to everyone. In a way… wouldn’t withholding be considered a form of mistrust and dishonesty? I guess I’m not 100% trusting of my fellow man, nor am I “completely” honest with ‘him.’ I won’t be able to fit here, all of my beliefs on this topic, as it pertains to each person in my life who I care about… which are really the ones that matter most in this discussion, no?

    Please do not be offended, Chris, if you never truly know the all-encompassing “real” SteveO, as I’m not sure anyone ever will.

  4. Chris Hayes says:

    SteveO:

    I don’t believe full disclosure is necessary for trust, by any means. Disclosure, yes. Full disclosure? No.

    For example, I generally don’t tell people how good all the girls I’ve dated are in bed… because 1) do they really need to know and 2) it falls into the realm of gossip, in my opinion. Does it make me dishonest or mistrustful that I don’t disclose that information?

    I have a general policy of don’t ask don’t tell, with exceptions for pertinent information. Generally, if I need to know, I’ll ask. Even then, it’s your choice whether you want to answer – just, don’t *lie* about it. 😉

  5. I’m pretty sure that everyone knows the difference between right and wrong (some just choose to ignore it). Same goes for truth or lie. If you’re asked point blank, and give anything other than the truth, then it is a lie.

    Not telling everything, I think, is a matter of choice. But I think it has more to do with insecurities than it does truthfulness. Having to “deal with it” when when the subject finds out (not if, when) is far worse than just being straigh from the beginning. Relationships, parents, whomever.

    I think the most important thing to remember with this thing called integrity is to always be thruthful to yourself. You are your conscience, so dig deeply, and live wisely. You’ll have less to remember, too. 😉

  6. Chris Hayes says:

    Michael:

    Agreed. But there’s a difference between leaving something out and simply saying “You don’t need to know that.” One is fundamentally deceptive. The other could be insecurities, or it may not be yours to tell.

    I’m a proponent of full disclosure where appropriate (99.9% of the time), but I do understand there can be good reasons for “pleading the fifth.”

  7. I really enjoyed this post! I am currently in a place of examining these concepts and values in my own life right now. Don’t mind that I rant for a minute…

    I have experienced the importance of trust and how it guides relationships and at the same time it can be the very thing that tears them apart (or rather, the violation of that trust). It’s really hard to respect and want to associate with those who have the track-record of lying, cheating and stealing. At their core, I think no person can be trusted totally. Yes, i think some people can be trusted greatly and are worth that trust, but not everyone is perfect or predictable. Even robots break-down and go go senseless at times. Everyone makes little mistakes, and others, well, just have shoddy internal-guidance systems. I guess it’s really important to know who the person we’re getting involved with is before we can make the decisions of investing trust. This relates to the old ‘eggs in the basket’ metaphor. See how the receiver handles one egg (a little bit of trust) before we give them more. If they’re good at not breaking your eggs, give them more. This egg-sharing (trust-building) greatly increases the quality of relationships.

    Self-Trust in oneself i feel is essential for personal growth and development. Without having trust in oneself and believing in our ability to accomplish, where are we to go? Lacking this trust also spawns insecurity which in its many ways is often an ugly thing. Trust in oneself is the seed of self-confidence and is an essential guiding factor to our world-view and behavior. It is also the foundation of Intimacy and those deeper connections with people. Without trust in ourselves, how do we expect to build trust in another? Without the foundation bedrock of self-trust, we’ll just be building castles on the sand…

    Also, integrity is never over-rated my friend. I feel it is somehow connected to our soul and essentially our Karma. Emotions and actions have a bungee effect; the decisions we make and what we do to others contributes to our ecosystem and eventually comes back to us. It’s never wise to ‘shit near the drinking water’ per say. I read Henry Cloud’s book on Integrity a couple of year ago and I thought he had a spot on description of what integrity is (and how it behaves). He said that ‘Integrity is the wake we leave behind us’. Do we leave chaos, rubble, and unhappy people in your path? or do you leave inspiration, clarity, and smiling faces? It is an important decision to make. Integrity is our badge-of-honor and portfolio for being a good person.

    Being good to others is how we build alliances. Without these alliances, friends, and positive connections, our opportunities for growth and success dwindle. I also once read that ‘kindness is the most powerful weapon’. What do you think?

    • Chris Hayes says:

      Thankyou for the comment, Jordan.

      Certainly nobody is perfect—or perfectly predictable. If we were, we wouldn’t be human. All of those mushy, inaccurate chemicals can make for some very unexpected behaviors and reactions. But, my point isn’t total trust. One of my favorite quotes (by an unknown source) is “To believe all men honest would be foolish. To believe none so would be something worse.”

      It’s not a matter of total trust. Like anything in real life, it’s a continuous spectrum. The question is, are you more trusting than cynical?

      Self-trust is another interesting challenge. When it comes to trust, I have an easier time trusting in others than myself. And it shows in my life. Others rarely let me down. It happens, and it hurts. But it’s infrequent. People generally behave towards me as I trust them to behave.

      However, the one person that does let me down is myself. And do you know why I think that is? It’s because I expect myself to. This is perfectly in line with my subjective perspective on reality. Whatever the reason, my expectations come to light. I trust others, and find others to be trustworthy. I doubt myself, and find myself lacking. This is the road to self-improvement—and my main focus is on my confidence in myself.

      It’s difficult to find a good balance between idealism and a realistic view of the world, but it sounds to me like you’ve got a good foundation.

      Thanks again for reading, Jordan! I hope my future posts are as valuable and interesting to you and my other readers.

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