Thursday, June 2, 2011
The Allure of Foreign Truths
Today I decided to say no to something.
That's a big deal for me.
I'm a pleaser, so I have gotten myself into quite a few projects that I quickly realized I should have declined. That tendency reminds me of an amazing quote from contemporary philosopher David Norton:
"The great enemy of integrity is not falsehood as such but - ironically - the attractiveness of foreign truths, truths that belong to others."
(Norton, D. 1977. Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism. Princeton University Press. p. 9)
Norton isn't talking about religious truths here, but personal ones. "Foreign truths" are good things that aren't mine to do. In my case, that includes things like selling a product, engaging in public political debate, or playing basketball. I admire people who do those things well, and at different times in my life I've been persuaded that I ought to do each of them. But while I was doing them, I felt like an impostor. And if I had kept trying to be something I wasn't, it would eventually shred the fabric of my integrity (by which Norton means not so much one's honesty as one's sense of wholeness as a person).
So, being a pleaser, I have unfortunately spent a fair amount of time pretending to be something I wasn't. That's no crime if you're genuinely searching for what your gifts are (which does require some trial and error). However, my concern (and Norton's) is that a lot of people spend their entire lives living foreign truths at work or in their personal lives -- trying to be what others think they ought to be, or what will make them the most money, regardless of their gifts. That's tragic, because it means you spend your life offering to the world something less than your best. And the world needs our unique personal gifts! (And we need to give them to be happy.)
If you're trying to figure out what your calling in life is, here's another thing or two to ask yourself:
- What opportunities have I said "no" to? Why?
- What opportunities do I wish I had said "no" to?
Sometimes we can learn as much about our unique gifts by the opportunities we turn down as the ones we accept.