"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bull***t," Princeton-based philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt has declared. (If you haven't read is very short book the subject, go order it now.) Few of us would disagree.

What's to be done about this tidal wave of half-truths, exaggerations, obfuscations, and spin? The usual answer is simple endurance. Wearily, we smile through gritted teeth at the store clerk extolling features we know not to function as advertised, shake our fists in rage at the politician carefully keeping just this side of an outright lie, and prevent ourselves from replying when a hot mess social media connection posts yet another piece of rosey Instagram B.S.

But one man at least has decided he just can't take it any more. On Fast Company recently novelist (and my new personal hero) Michael Grothaus recounted what happened when, for one week at least, he resolved to always call people on their B.S. The whole thing is well worth a read in full, but the gist is this: he honed his B.S.-detector, saved a lot of money, felt powerful and happy, and even got better at seeing his own B.S.

The nice person's guide to calling B.S.

'I want to do that!' you might respond, but then you'll probably start to worry about social niceties. Is it possible to call B.S. without offending people, causing scenes, and ruining relationships?

Grothaus insists it is, and gets some expert advice on how to manage this feat from Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and owner of CallingBullshit.org. Here's the four-step process Bergstrom recommends, in Grothaus's words:

  • Call bullshit on a claim, not a person. Say, "I don't think that's correct," rather than, "You're full of s**t."

  • Do it respectfully. Learn to call bullshit without disrespecting someone, and learn to accept bullshit being called out on you without feeling disrespected.

  • Call bullshit with humility. It can be tempting to do so with a righteous tone, but you'll surely regret that the first time you turn out to be wrong in calling B.S.

  • Don't assume it's malicious. When someone says or writes something that is bullshit, don't assume or insinuate that it has been done maliciously if it could simply be the result of an error.

Bergstrom also cautions people not to take your commitment to the straight truth too far. All B.S. isn't bad. "There are certain 'white lie' forms of B.S. that lubricate our every social interaction: 'Your new haircut looks great.' 'I just loved your Jell-O casserole.' 'What a beautiful baby!''" explains Grothaus. 

I think we can all agree that insulting the appearance of someone's baby is, indeed, taking a worthy pursuit of plain talking a step too far. But for all those many other forms of B.S. that you usually allow to simply wash over you, why not finally resolve to fight back? If Grothaus's experience is anything to go by, you'll enjoy it.

Plus, the rest of us will thank you for doing your small bit to banish B.S from an inundated world.

Published on: Nov 10, 2017
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