Benevolent Bullshitting

Not sure if good at bullshitting Or if i actually know what the fuck i'm  talking about - Not sure Fry - quickmeme

I was listening to a podcast the other day that was discussing ways to identify and avoid “bullshitting.” They made a clear distinction between what we refer to as bullshitting and lying. When you are lying, you know for a fact that what you are saying is untrue, but say it anyway for whatever reason. Bullshitting however, while often containing falsehoods, is different from lying in that the bullshitter does not know and/or care if what they are saying is true or not. In addition to that we often look at bullshitting as harmless, while we condemn liars.

The host of this podcast made an interesting point about what I’ve decided to call “benevolent bullshitting.” She brought up times in her life where she has exaggerated or embellished factual information in order to make a point or further an argument about something that she strongly believed in. They were categorizing this under the same umbrella term of bullshitting, but until then I had never really thought of it that way. Unfortunately I have definitely dabbled in this form of bullshitting more often than I’d like to admit.

Now that I’ve recognized this tendency in myself to support my point even when I may not actually have the facts to back it up, I wonder how often others do this as well. In the moment we feel justified in doing this. We are so desperate to change the mind of the person we are talking to. We are so sure that we are right. What is the harm then in exaggerating just a bit in order to get our point across, we ask ourselves. Looking back on the times when I have done this, I definitely think at the very least it has hurt my cause rather than helped it.

Not only are we being dishonest when we partake in benevolent bullshitting, we are doing a disservice to those we are talking to as well as to the issue we are attempting to bolster. If later it is found out that our assertions were unfounded, it could cause the other person to completely disregard all the other things we have said or will say in the future. They may become angry and write the issue off all together.

I am also a strong believer in being an example of what you’d like to see in the world. I certainly wouldn’t want the people I talk to to mislead me during our discussions. Therefore, why would I justify me doing the same to them? If I find myself in a situation where I cannot support my side of an issue honestly, then that’s a sign I need to do more research, not dig my heels in and continue trying to steamroll the other person into having the same opinion.

Knowing that I, myself, am a peddler of benevolent bullshit has helped me to be more cautious in conversation. I am more careful about what I say, but I am also more hesitant to take what the other person says at face value. I’m quite gullible and generally don’t consider that what someone says to me could very well be untrue, whether they realize it or not.

The phenomenon of benevolent bullshitting also highlights the discomfort we all seem to have about uncertainty or not knowing. Rather than being honest and admitting that we don’t know or have not heard the point the other side has just offered seems intolerable to us a lot of the time. Deep down it feels like we’ve lost the argument if we can’t rebut every comment immediately. However, when I am debating a topic with someone, I don’t ever feel as though I’ve “won” if they tell me they aren’t aware of the information I’m providing. To the contrary, I gain a lot of respect for someone that is able to do this.

The next time you are sharing your opinion or having a discussion with someone, try to be mindful of the temptation to partake in benevolent bullshitting. What might you decide to say instead? Can you get comfortable with admitting a certain degree of ignorance, even about an issue you’re passionate and knowledgeable about? Practice being humble enough to accept that you can’t be right all of the time. You can’t know everything. And that’s okay. Try to get curious when someone says something new or unexpected during a disagreement. Ask questions. Maybe you’ll learn something new! Which is always it’s own victory in my book. Perhaps you’ll even catch a bit of benevolent bullshitting from the other party, and get better at recognizing it.

Moderation

When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.

One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.

For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.

Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.

I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.

Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)

Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.

Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com