#23: The Stockdale Paradox and the Dos and Don'ts of Radical Candor

PLUS: How to be free, really.

Welcome, Wise Wanderer.

Explore a diverse range of philosophical insights in this edition of the newsletter, from examining the stoic resilience of James Stockdale to navigating the subtleties of radical candor and Nietzsche's theatrical introspection.

Discover practical self-improvement techniques and delve into deep contemplations on freedom, meditation practices, and the art of morning pages.

In today’s Nous:

  • 🏹 Stoic Superheroes Series: Unveiling James Stockdale's Stoic Endurance in War

  • 🧰 Radical Candor Breakdown: Mastering Honest Communication in Relationships and Business

  • 🤖 Friedrich Nietzsche's One Man Show: A Dramatic Exploration of Human Rationality

  • 🧘 Stoic Reflections: Understanding True Freedom Beyond External Constraints

  •  Self-Improvement Practices: Tonglen Meditation and Morning Pages for Daily Growth

Read time: 8 minutes

Editor’s Picks

🏹 Stoic Wisdom Arrow

I'm just starting a series of videos on The Stoic Superheroes. These are individuals that have either been practicing Stoics or influenced by Stoic philosophy. In the first video of the series, we take a look at James Stockdale who served for 7.5 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and practiced the teachings of Epictetus to help him get through that experience. I hope you find value in the video and it helps you get through whatever challenges you are currently facing:

Technique Try-Out

🧰 The Do’s and Don’ts of Radical Candor

Being honest and assertive is very powerful. It allows us to be who we really are, express ourselves authentically, and therefore build deeper relationships that are built on trust and a shared stable reality.

It also allows us to identify and deal with problems, let's say in a relationship or business setting, without building up resentment and sweeping important issues under the rug.

Radical candor attempts to turn this approach into a philosophy.

Radical candor is a concept in management and personal interactions, introduced by Kim Scott in her book "Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity." It revolves around the idea of challenging people directly and caring for them personally, leading to more effective communication and stronger relationships.

But one of the issues with a concept like this, is that people may hear it without actually reading about the subtleties of the approach. And it can actually lead to some bad practices that may end up causing more harm than good.

I was recently interviewing Dan Munro (podcast coming out soon), and he talked about the difference between weak honesty and powerful honesty, and I thought about radical candor in this context. What if people could say they are practicing powerful honesty by using the radical candor approach, meanwhile doing it all wrong…

To prevent this concept from being misused, and to help you derive the most from it, I thought I’d give you a basic overview of how to practice radical candor properly.

💡 Understanding Radical Candor

  1. Radical candor is about providing clear, specific, and honest feedback. It's not about being harsh or critical for the sake of it, but about helping someone grow and improve.

  2. While being direct, it's equally important to show that you care about the person on a personal level. This approach ensures that your feedback is seen as constructive rather than as an attack.

  3. Radical candor isn't just about giving feedback; it's also about inviting it. It encourages open dialogue and creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing and receiving honest feedback.

Dos of Radical Candor

  1. Before you can effectively use radical candor, it's essential to build trust with the person. They need to believe that your feedback is coming from a good place.

  2. When giving feedback, be as specific as possible. Avoid vague comments and focus on behaviors and outcomes.

  3. Show that you’re open to understanding the other person’s perspective. Active listening helps in building a deeper understanding and relationship.

  4. After giving feedback, check in with the person later. This shows that you care about their progress and are willing to assist them.

  5. Encourage others to practice radical candor as well. This creates a more open and growth-oriented environment.

🛑 Don'ts of Radical Candor

  1. Being direct doesn’t mean being insensitive or rude. Always balance honesty with empathy.

  2. Offer feedback in private settings to avoid public embarrassment. Humiliating people can be counterproductive.

  3. Focus on behaviors and actions, not on the person’s character. Personal attacks can damage relationships and trust.

  4. Recognize and acknowledge the emotional aspects of feedback. People are likely to be sensitive to criticism, no matter how constructive.

  5. Be consistent in your approach. If you're radically candid with one person but not with another, it can create a perception of bias or unfairness.

New Ways of Seeing

🤖 Friedrich Nietzsche’s One Man Show

The scene is set in a dimly lit study, filled with books and papers. Friedrich Nietzsche, portrayed by a modern actor, sits in a high-backed chair, his intense gaze fixed on the audience. A spotlight illuminates him as he begins to speak, his voice resonating with a blend of passion and disdain.

🎤 Nietzsche:

Ah, the human condition! A spectacle of errors and follies, a tragicomedy played out on the grand stage of existence. How they prance about, these humans, so full of certainty, so blissfully unaware of the quagmires that entangle their feet.

Look at them, these self-proclaimed 'rational beings', parading around with their 'logical conclusions', their 'moral truths'. How laughably absurd! They cling to their philosophies like shipwrecked sailors to debris, thinking themselves wise, not realizing they are mere puppets dancing to the tune of their own hidden irrationalities.

They speak of 'truth', these naïve creatures, as if it were a jewel to be found rather than a chisel to sculpt their own illusions. They build their moral castles on the sands of convenience and self-righteousness, never seeing the tide of their own hypocrisy that erodes its foundations.

And oh, the philosophers among them! Those supposed stewards of wisdom! They are the worst offenders, entangled in their own webs of words and theories. They build labyrinths of thought from which not even they can escape, lost in the corridors of their own minds.

They seek comfort in absolutes, these people, in a world where the only absolute is uncertainty. Their beliefs, their values, their entire worldview – a house of cards waiting for the gust of reality to topple it down.

They are blind, these humans, blind to the chaos that underpins their existence, blind to the absurdity of their pursuits. They fear the abyss of the unknown, so they fabricate meaning, purpose, order – anything to shield themselves from the terrifying freedom that comes with acknowledging their own insignificance.

In their ignorance, they judge, they condemn, they wage wars – both of words and weapons. They divide themselves over ideologies, over beliefs that are as fleeting as shadows, as insubstantial as the mist.

The comedy of human rationality – a farce that I have observed with both amusement and despair. For in their folly lies not only their downfall but also their charm. In their misguided quests, their irrational passions, there lies a certain beauty – a relentless striving, a fiery defiance against the indifferent cosmos.

But let us not be fooled. For every lofty ideal they espouse, for every 'noble' cause they champion, there lies a labyrinth of contradictions, a swamp of unexamined motives. The human animal – irrational at its core, yet ever so convinced of its own enlightenment.

So, let us raise a toast to humanity – to its follies, its errors, its laughable quest for meaning in a meaningless world. For in this tragicomic play, we find not only the absurdity of existence but also the raw material for a profound reevaluation of all values."

Turning Theory Into Skill

🧘 Your Desperation for Freedom Enslaves You

Many of us associate slavery with the external realm.

I am a slave if someone imprisons me. I lose my freedom if my co-worker has more authority than I do.

Rules and regulations are the enemy, they restrict my freedom and therefore enslave me.

But the Stoics didn’t worry so much about this type of loss of freedom, because a lot of this is outside of our control…

But more than that, the desire to try and micromanage the external forms of freedom almost makes you a slave to them.

The Stoics saw that true freedom is internal. If you are always running from authority, frightened by it, you are a slave to your own aversions.

The unconscious anxieties and fears that make you desire external freedom so much, mean that you are always running away from or chasing after something, and therefore emotionally enslaved to the external world.

The Stoic philosophers, such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, believed that true freedom, or what they referred to as "eudaimonia" (flourishing or living in accordance with one's true nature), could only be achieved by mastering one's inner world.

They argued that external circumstances, like authority or rules, were beyond our control, and thus, focusing too much on them would lead to unnecessary suffering.

In Stoicism, the primary source of our enslavement is not external factors but our own reactions and aversions to those factors.

When we constantly resist or fear external authority, we become slaves to our own anxieties and desires. The Stoics advocated for introspection and self-mastery as the means to achieve true freedom.

Off The Troden Path

📆 Self-Improvement To-Do List

 Tonglen. In this meditation, Pema Chödrön guides you through the 4 stages of Tonglen meditation, which helps you build your “compassion muscle”. Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist. She is an ordained nun, former acharya of Shambhala Buddhism and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Try the meditation here.

 Morning Pages: I'm currently doing morning pages as one of my daily practices, and finding it really useful. In conjunction with this practice, I'm also using an app called FlowState, which deletes everything you write if you stop typing. I find this really good to encourage me to keep expressing for the time allotted.

 Word: Kenosis, rooted in Christian theology, involves a clearing out of the self for the sake of a greater good. Applied to artistic thinking, it concerns humbling yourself as a sign of sacrifice: Through surrendering your own identity, you come closer to embodying pure empathy.

All Things End

🔥 Friend of Wisdom

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