Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Developing Theme...The Goodness of Being Good

"...And the truth will make you free." -- John 8:32

Last night I had a great time hanging out with one of my neighbors at The Worthen. We saw a phenomenal ska band with a Gwen Stefani-esque lead vocalist, a great horn section, upbeat music and some damn funny lyrics.

After the show ended, we stuck around for a couple more Pabst Blue Ribbons, and he regaled me with some stories of his days as a swashbuckling Lothario back in his twenties. At one point, the story involved his simultaneous dating of two high-power corporate women who were, on average, ten years to his north in age.

"How do you do it?" his friends asked. Everyone wanted to know the big secret -- how was he able to juggle the two at once and still make the whole thing work without either being the wiser?

"There is no secret," he replied. "I'm just completely honest with both, and no one minds."

People were stunned. The secret wasn't some kind of parlor trick, sleight-of-hand, or high-wire trapeze act involving the juggling of flaming bowling pins. There was no lying involved.

It was something far more powerful and durable -- simple, forthright honesty.

This got me thinking about the power of being truthful. On top of my prior entries about being a nice and decent person, I see a theme developing -- the promotion of these virtues not just in a "tsk, ought to behave this in this 'morally correct' sort of way" but in a you-should-do-this-because-it's-in-your-own-self-interest sort of way.

You may not know this, but Larry Bird was one of the most infamous trash-talkers in the history of the NBA. You know how he infuriated and humiliated his opponents?

It wasn't by insulting their mothers, or even their jump shots. He used the truth.

Larry Legend used to announce to his defender exactly what he would do on a set play...just before he did it. He was so open about it, and so brazen about the openness, that it doubly infuriated his opponents when they couldn't stop him.

In his case, he used to truth to his advantage in a different sort of way. Yes, the Bird example is a little bit of a deviation from my bigger point (he wasn't necessarily doing anything virtuous, I admit), but I still wanted to include it as a vignette about the truth's varied powers.

I hearken back to my earlier entry about community-building here -- it doesn't have to be about cards up your sleeve, or about magic tricks, or silly books that are supposed to teach you about the right number of threads to weave into a conversation. It has a lot more to do with just being honest, forthright, open, and friendly.

When I think of the places that I've taken to -- and where I'm starting to become a 'local' -- a huge factor has been the way the staff has treated (or not treated) me.

Three examples would be Brew'd Awakening, the Blue Shamrock, and The Worthen. At each one of these places, the owner got to know me, learned my name, and made me feel welcome. There wasn't any special magical formula to it, and in the end it will (literally) pay huge dividends back in the form of future business (and good word-of-mouth).

The places that I went to a few times but never got that *warm* feeling back from, I simply won't be rushing back to.

So, from the vantage point of a business owner (as well as a would-be social capital builder or a North Shore Don Juan) it's good to be good. That may sound corny to you, but I really believe it.

Here's another personal example: Sometime in my mid-twenties, I shed what used to be a truly terrible habit of mine -- in true passive-aggressive fashion, I would badmouth people for any minor foible to other colleagues, fellow students, dormmates, co-workers, or what-have-you. Of course -- human nature being what it is -- many of those comments made their way back to the target in roundabout fashion and generated what you might call some truly bad karma (apologies to Sharon Stone for the 'karma' reference).

I'm not going to say I'm perfect about that now, but I've seriously made about a 179-degree turnaround. Now, if I have something to say to someone, I'm a lot better at either just keeping it to myself or telling them directly.

So how does this benefit me?

A ton. When you don't engage in bad-mouthing, it frees you. It means that you never have to watch your back. It means you don't have to sweat it when you make tenuous agreements about what's "not going to leave this room." It means you never have to worry about whether something you said about someone might have made it back to them, and does-the-person-know-and-are-they-looking-at-me-funny-because-someone-may-have-told-them-what-I-said-two-weeks-ago-about-how-annoying-they-sometimes-are.

It's amazing how personally liberating it is to have all that mental clutter removed when you break that habit. If you haven't already done it, I suggest you give it a whirl. It not only improves your office or social group's climate, but it comes back to personally benefit you.

And yes, that's the big "developing theme" I referenced in the title -- the idea that you should live by certain, unwavering moral precepts based on decency not just based on a bunch of "shalls" and "shants" concerning the way you treat others, but because it's truly a better way to live and will absolutely come back to your benefit in the long run.

Stop for a second and think about the people you like and/or generally admire.

I would bet that on balance, they display the traits of honesty, sincerity, and transparency. Tools, mind you, can and will always finish last -- they deserve no better. But being good does not by any stretch make you a tool.

And I'm willing to bet that in your book, whoever you thought about two paragraphs ago finishes first, or at least pretty close to it.


Chris said...

Ghandi always said: there is no higher God than truth

The New Englander said...


No diggity, and thanks for the comment. And come the Finals, truly Paul Pierce will emerge as "The Truth."


Shannon said...

I enjoyed reading this blog entry, you hit the nail on the head. I would like to hear your perspective regarding dealing with others who have the same habit that you had in your twenties. People who like to come to me and trash talk about others.
This is a prob at work where I am quite close to all of my co workers. Each of them has something to say about the faults of the others. What they say is usually true, but exaggerated and completely blown out of proportion. Its also usually something that really doesn't bother me or its something that the accuser has done themselves within the last month. Maybe thats just work place gossip but it feels a little awkward and disgusting. It also comes with the funny realization that they definitely talk trash about me!

The New Englander said...


Wow..that's a tough one. On the one hand, you should always want to have your finger on the pulse of wherever you are...and one of the best ways to do that is to just listen to what people say about each other. You'll learn a ton about what little things piss people off about each other, and you'll have a better sense of the politics behind workplace decisions and how people really feel about each other. So while the easy thing for someone else (like me) to say is "Just avoid all that," and sound morally righteous, gossip does have its place, and it sounds like you have great access and placement for collection (that was spy slang).

Plus, the fact that people are coming to YOU might be because they trust you and feel they can confide in you.

Here's what you have to be careful about, though (and where I've been burned once or twice). You can listen and just absorb it all you want, but the MINUTE you pipe in with anything, now you're complicit. The person can then turn around and say, "Shannon and I were just saying..." even though you barely said anything. Even worse, you could get thrown under the bus completely "...Shannon was saying.." without the other person taking ownership for what was primarily their opinion in the first place.

You're also right to say that hearing it makes you realize it could turn on you next. Anyone who says "I don't care what anyone else thinks about me" is just a bald-faced liar. We all do, just in different ways and different degrees. Reputation is everything. Staying plugged in to the office talk (in the right way) may help you find out what -- if anything -- gets said about you, so you can either a) nip it in the bud, or b) just take note of it as a "back-pocket" sort of reference.

let me know how it goes!