As part of my "self-improvment/self-help" reading kick, I read this very short book on lying by Sam Harris. It caught my attention because I've alwaysAs part of my "self-improvment/self-help" reading kick, I read this very short book on lying by Sam Harris. It caught my attention because I've always prided myself on being an honest, open person, but a big part of his argument is that even lies of omission or white lies, told for the sake of kindness, are harmful and unethical. Thinking about it, I feel like I do that a lot trying to spare people's feelings, and Sam Harris argues that this kind of thing is hurtful, because by not being honest about negative things, you're depriving people of knowledge that could help them.
One reason I think I'm so wary of saying critical things to people is that, partly as a result of being influenced by existentialism, I have a deep respect for other people's freedom to make their own choices and be their own authentic selves through those choices. As a friend, it's not my job to fix or improve or change or influence anyone - at best I think friends can help each other figure out who they really are and want to be and to become more true to themselves, by listening and asking questions and having conversations exploring those things. Conversely, it *is* my job to take responsibility for my own life choices and happiness, and part of that involves trying to be around people who affect my life in positive ways, and protecting myself from people who hurt me, by choosing not to be around them if I can help it.
In the case of people whose behavior I sometimes don't like, because it's hurtful or self-destructive or some way distasteful to me, I feel like the best approach is most of the time positive reinforcement rather than being critical and calling them out on their bad behavior. So you give support and encouragement and praise when you see them doing something positive, and when the bad behavior happens you just don't give it any attention or communication at all, because the problem is that it's very easy from childhood on for people to learn that bad behavior can get them attention, and the negative attention feels better than no interaction at all. So negative attention always risks reinforcing the negative behavior.
I can see Sam Harris's point though, about depriving people of helpful insights by refraining from criticism or negative comments ... but I think maybe a healthy balance is that if you value someone's role in your life as a friend or partner, yet you find their behavior is hurting you, the ethical approach is to give them at least a few chances to change by telling them honestly that they're being hurtful. If you've tried to communicate about it two or three times and the problems keep resurfacing, then you just have to let go and walk away and leave them to work out their issues at a safe distance ......more
Listened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thougListened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thought his delivery was not too bad! I'm a sucker for funny, and this was funny, so naturally I liked it.
[Mormon reader friends: His gayness, profanity, and references to various body parts may offend you, although they quite delighted me ...]...more