It's Time to Stamp out the Bull
The constant presence of half-truths and shameless spin in our lives might not sound like much of an issue, but according to political operative Jon Lovett, all that BS can have serious consequences.
“We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media's imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak," he told the graduating class of Pitzer College. "It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.”
BS isn’t just a public curse but a private challenge as well, “changing even how we interact with one another,” he added.
It’s easy to point a finger at politicians, but let’s be honest--business produces an an outsized contribution to our supply of claptrap.
So what can you do to fight back? Lovett offers three bits of advice.
Admit your ignorance. Problems only arise when you think you know everything. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be confident in your abilities, just be aware of their limits.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function," said Lovett. "That's what you have to do: you have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience.
There are moments when you'll have a different point of view because you're a fresh set of eyes because you don't care how it's been done before; because you're sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you're wrong."
If you see something, say something. No one said fighting BS would be easy. Know what you don’t know, but when you’re pretty sure you’re right, don’t be deferential. Lovett calls this “the subway rule: ‘If you see something, say something.'"
Value Honesty. Our culture celebrates financial success, professional achievement, and in some quarters, family values. But how often do we celebrate honesty?
Take a pause now and then to commit yourself to the value of truth. That might sound unfashionable, but Lovett is confident it will pay off.
“Up until recently, I would have said that the only proper response to our culture of BS is cynicism; that it would just get worse and worse," he said during his speech. "But I don't believe that any more. I believe we may have reached peak b******t, and that increasingly those who push back against the noise and nonsense; those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics, and commerce, and entertainment, and government will be rewarded. We are at the beginning of something important.”
Do you agree that there's too much BS?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.