We tell the truth we want to believe

It’s not that we create content with the intention of whitewashing the truth. We just tend to minimize the parts of our experiences that don’t align with our beliefs of how things should be or how we see ourselves.

It seems like becoming successful would give you more freedom to really tell the truth, but success often exacerbates the issue. Success gives us more leverage to edit our experiences, and looking back at our experiences through the rose-tinted lenses of success tends to alter what we recall.

Successful or not, we tell our stories the way we wanted them to be, not necessarily as they actually happened. We tend to tell our stories with certain events removed, certain interactions rescripted, and certain motivations adjusted, so that the story in its retelling more closely comports with how we view our world and ourselves (or how we want others to view it and us).

We buy the truth we want to believe

We tend to buy books, courses and tickets to presentations that reaffirm what we already believe. If we want to believe that the business world rewards goodness, hard work and playing well with others, we buy books that align with that point of view. We go see presentations by people who say those things are true. We Tweet quotes from web articles that tell us we’re right. We support the truth we want to believe with our dollars, our web clicks and our attention.

The reason salacious celebrity rumors support an entire industry of tabloid publications and photographers is that millions of people desperately want to believe that anyone that rich or that beautiful or that successful must have a fatal flaw or crack in the facade that knocks them off the pedestals we put them on. The rumors don’t have to be true to sell–they just have to align with what we want to believe.

A big part of the reason The Four Hour Workweek was so successful is because millions of people around the world desperately want to believe it’s possible to work only four hours a week and still be rich, famous, well-traveled and blissfully content. There was a lot of good and actionable information in the book–but what made it a best-seller was tapping into what people want to believe is true.

Bottom line: The actual truth doesn’t always sell.

Content creators edit their truth to make it more palatable to themselves and their audience. Content consumers put their dollars and attention toward content that reaffirms their beliefs.

The bottom line result is that the truth told doesn’t always equate to the truth sold. What winds up in the final manuscript or presentation is the truth that sells, even if it doesn’t totally align with the truth of what actually happened.

For the content creator: to tell or to sell?

Are we telling the truth, or are we selling the truth? Each option has its place. If we unfailingly opt for selling the truth, we’re likely to gloss over points of reality that would ultimately be useful, instructive and helpful to those who consume our content. On the flipside, if we staunchly insist on telling the truth without any eye to its sellability, we may find ourselves unable to make much of an impact because no one’s hearing what we’re saying.

The important thing is not to pledge unwavering allegiance to either option, but to be aware of the choices we make in how we present our experiences, and in how we present “what’s true” and “what’s real.”

It’s equally important for us to remember–for our own sake–how much of what we present is more or less an accurate depiction of events, and how much is edited.

Forgetting some of the rough edges or less audience-palatable actions of our past tends to give us a skewed perspective on our own success and on what others “should” be able to achieve by following in our (edited) footsteps.

If you view the edited version of your own home movie long enough, you tend to forget all the parts that landed on the cutting room floor. Don’t let that happen. Those might be the parts you’d like to forget–but they might also be the parts your audience needs (or even deserves?) to hear.

For the content consumer: Buyer Be(a)ware

Know your intention.

Are you seeking the truth, or are you seeking support for your vision? Both motivations are valid, but confusing a quest for support of what you believe with a journey toward discovering other peoples’ experiences can lead to a skewed perspective as well. It’s easy to conclude that everyone’s experience comports with how you think the world should be, if that’s the only content you consume.

Do you support what you say you want?

If you say you want your leaders to be transparent, authentic and honest, do you actually make room for them to deliver on that request? Transparency and authenticity eventually reveal humanness, and humanness doesn’t always follow the rules of what’s expected or what’s “awesome.”

If we say we want our leaders to show us who they really are, we need to mean it. And if not, then we need to get comfortable with the fact that the leaders we support will always be just versions of the people who became successful, and their stories will only be “based on a true story,” rather than actually being the true story.

For all of us

Telling the truth isn’t the same as selling the truth, and there’s a time and place where each can be useful and effective.

What’s tricky is remembering to ask which is happening, and to filter the information accordingly–especially when we’re the ones doing the telling. Or the selling… whichever the case may be.

★ Does the gap between what we experience and what we sell as our story matter to you? Does it matter differently when you’re creating/selling content versus buying/consuming it? How do you strike a balance between telling and selling the truth?

Image credit: Loreshdw | CC License

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