Discover more from The Comma Project by Devin Baker
On last week’s essay, truth, integrity, and The Comma Project
I have something to say, and it contradicts last week's essay. I explore truth and integrity, my commitments ahead, and an invitation to join me in The Comma Project
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I have something to say, and it contradicts last week's essay.
Here, I explore truth and integrity, my commitments ahead, and an invitation to join me in The Comma Project.
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On last week’s essay, truth, integrity, and The Comma Project
If it’s time for you to be authentic, it’s time for you to truly go all the way. Either go all the way, or don’t go at all.
That’s what my coach confronted me with the day after I published last week’s essay.
At first, I was confused and caught off-guard.
I was being fully authentic, I thought. I shared my perspective, and part of my story, related to a question that resurfaces often in my life - one that I felt had to be challenged, and re-thought.
Her challenge, I must admit, sent me spinning.
I felt anger, shame, judgement.
I felt like I messed up, made a mistake, even as I still processed whether or not the challenge felt accurate. I think it particularly affected me because I felt like I was being authentic, and this feedback felt like an invalidation of my authenticity.
In the week since I sent last week’s piece, I’ve been swimming in questions:
Is what I said wrong?
Aren’t we supposed to offer a perspective, take a stand, have “strong opinions, loosely held,” and invite deeper reflection? Or is that not quite it?
Did I misrepresent myself? Did I exaggerate, miss the point?
Do I even know what truth and integrity really are?
How about authenticity?
Is the way that I’ve been approaching writing here, this whole project, compromised? Have I unknowingly masked a self-important, attention-grabbing aim in thin layers of talk of authenticity, truth, leadership, connection?
Is asking “What do you do?” truly soul-crushing tyranny?
I’ve sat with these questions for a couple of days, and I now see what she was asking me.
It’s quite simple, and it comes in the form of a single question:
Is it true?
Is what I shared true?
Is all of what I shared - personal stories and universal statements alike - true?
Since our conversation, as I’ve waded through the emotions and questions that emerged in response, and wrangled a bit of peace and clarity, I see that filtering life - everything from facts to emotions to beliefs - through that question is foundational.
Is it true?
I see that as I had strayed from this question, I found myself lost in a disorienting, chaotic storm of thoughts and emotions, buffeted by questions and doubts rooted in fear and shame.
I had lost my guidepost. I had let the foundation begin to crumble.
And that felt powerless.
But as I was led back to that simple question, I’ve come to feel the power in it.
Is it true?
It’s been a guidepost, something to hold on to. And it’s brought some peace, quiet, and order to the storm.
And that feels powerful.
But powerful doesn’t mean easy.
As I have spent time back in touch with this question of truth, using it as a lens for processing my days, I’m frustrated, saddened, and ashamed to say that what I wrote last week was only partially true.
But here’s the thing - partially true actually means untrue.
And that’s soul-crushing.
These emotions might seem strong in response to a piece with a bit of cheeky exaggeration in the title. They did to me as well, which is why I knew I needed to take a look at what’s underneath them.
But as I’ve processed this a bit more and asked why this is the case, I see it’s because the implications of untruth, however small, regardless of intent, but especially in a public setting, challenge one of my most core guiding values and intentions:
All of this has pushed me to dive deep and look at myself, especially and particularly in the context of my intent and aspirations for my writing.
In pursuit of truth, integrity, and authenticity, I’m sharing what has emerged.
What is truth?
in accordance with reality;
accurate or exact;
loyal or faithful;
Truth has integrity.
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles;
the state of being whole and undivided
Which all means that, in a state of anything different than “whole and undivided honest(y)” “in accordance with accurate or exact reality,” a thing is, by definition, untrue.
What I take from this is that there’s no such thing as partial truth.
If something seems partially true, it may mean that it deserves a second look, more context, greater precision. It could be a blend of a variety of truths that, at first glance, appear to be melded together in one mega partial truth.
(An aside: I even considered deleting the prior section, because I find myself now interrogating everything through a more rigorous lens of truth and integrity.)
What was untrue about the “soul-crushing tyranny” of a single question?
I missed the point.
Soul-crushing isn’t being asked what I do for work.
Soul-crushing is living in a world in which what someone does, not who they are, is all that they are known and valued for.
It’s becoming a person who believes the same.
Soul-crushing is following suit, pursuing a hollow life, made fragile by living for an external world, giving myself over to doing, instead of turning inward in discovery, committed to a process of becoming.
It’s neglecting the excavation, an exploration into who I am at my core, what makes me me, what’s true, what feels right, internally, intrinsically, removed, apart from, unaffected by the noise of the world around me.
It’s uncovering and returning to the core, independent from the world that I had let shape my very being from the outside-in.
Soul-crushing is losing myself along the way. Feeling the pain of that loss. The pain of facing the truth of the world and experiences and relationships that led me to the loss.
It’s the pain of change. The pain of starting fresh. Of beginning an excavation and exploration into who I truly am.
It’s the pain of continuing that excavation and exploration. Always continuing the excavation and exploration. It’s seeing what I find.
Soul-crushing is fucking up, making mistakes. It’s owning the mistakes, taking responsibility. It’s apologizing, correcting the mistakes.
It’s asking questions, seeking truth.
It’s learning, growing.
And on and on.
And it must also be said that it’s not all bleak. What I also left out was that what comes on the other side of the soul-crushing pain and struggle. The the reason I turn to face it all: freedom.
I’ve seen that if I run away from the pain, I stay a prisoner to it.
I’ve seen that pain is a wound unhealed, and wounds left unhealed will keep hurting.
I’ve also seen that if I turn towards the pain and struggle, with courage to follow it down to its root and seek to face what’s true, however scary and uncomfortable, I begin to free myself from its grasp.
And what a gift that freedom is.
I’ve come to believe that freedom is the goal.
So, what’s the point?
The point isn’t the question “What do you do?” or even what I do or don’t believe about the question.
I think that the point is what my beliefs about and reactions to the question say about me - where I am, what I feel, what’s true for me, who I am.
Maybe I got too caught up in answers, instead of focusing on what matters: questions, and what they reveal when we ask them, and seek truth through them.
Maybe that’s the point of any question. Not to tell anyone about what they should think about it, or answer to it - but to invite them to seek an answer to it on their own.
It’s not that the question doesn’t show us about the person.
It’s that it is only part of them, and when we lead with that part revealed by the question, I believe we start on the wrong foot.
I believe that understanding more about a person’s search for truth, for an answer to the question asked, is how we come to truly know somebody.
I believe that understanding what it feels like for them, what comes up, why they think that’s so, where they come from, where they’re going, and what they believe - that is truly coming to know a person.
Why did I lose sight of the truth?
Fear, and shame.
Fear of being judged.
Fear of not having insight.
Fear of not offering value.
Fear of vulnerability, of being seen in the struggle.
Fear of being vulnerable just for vulnerability’s sake.
Fear of doing it wrong, and for the wrong reasons.
Ultimately, fear of not being valuable.
Of not being worthy.
Of not being seen.
What’s the true story?
I think that there is truth in the piece, but it gets overshadowed by statements of universality and objectivity attempted in the title. It gets diluted and invalidated by attempting to pull my story, what’s true for me, beyond my experience and into that of others.
The true story is nuanced.
The true story is the only one I can tell with full integrity: my story.
The whole story isn’t simple. But it’s true.
Life doesn’t feel all that simple much of the time. But what are our options?
I can fight the complexity, or I can explore it. I can demand that the world change for me, or I can try to understand the truth, to color in the nuance.
I’m working towards the latter - which is the reason that I’m writing this piece today.
So, why didn’t I delete the piece?
Because this is the point of the story.
The excavation and exploration. The mistakes. Taking responsibility. Apologizing, correcting the mistakes. Asking questions, seeking truth. Learning, growing. Living.
The process is the point.
What comes next?
At this point, questions of value come to mind.
If I can only tell my story - if I can’t rain down wise, universal insights on life and people - is it valuable? Does my perspective matter? Should I be sharing it?
Again, I think there’s something in my reaction to these questions that points me to places I have to explore further. I plan to, and will save deeper musings on these specifics for another time.
But for now, what I can share is that, even despite the choppy chaos of questions and doubts, below the noise, I feel a stronger undercurrent of belief. It feels a bit like a magnetic or gravitational pull that persists, even though I can feel tossed about on the surface at times.
It’s a pull that guides me to believe that stories do matter. A belief that within one person’s story are seeds of every person’s story. A belief in the power of relatability in a world where the sensational is put on a pedestal.
I believe that writing about my story matters, first, for me.
That it’s a way of doing this thing that I talk about - a way of seeking truth, of being in process. When I write, I find myself surprised - I find that I learn what I think when I write.
But I also believe that writing about my story matters more generally.
I believe this because I’ve found that I need others to help me along in my process.
I’ve found that ideas and stories, even when told in settings where I’m not an active participant, but simply a viewer, a listener, or a reader, have been an incredibly important form of having others to help me along in my process, even if they don’t even know that I’m there with them.
I believe in the power of story - real, authentic, human story - to serve us.
I believe in their power to help teach us about ourselves, much in the way that asking meaningful questions does.
To reveal, in the form of our reactions to another’s story, truths within ourselves.
To help us along our process, even when the storyteller doesn’t even know we’re listening.
I can’t say that I have my fully developed, comprehensive perspective on what it is to share deeply human stories of experiences, questions, and exploration in public.
I believe in it in my core, but I’m not sure I understand the full texture of what it is like, why it’s important, how it’s done, what parts matter and what it’s like to get it right or wrong.
What comes to mind is another key question:
What is The Comma Project?
It’s something people in my life are asking me, as I turn to them for an ear and their thoughts about all this.
Is it a place for me to share my story, my thoughts, my process?
Or is it something different? Bigger?
My answer to this question is likely to change along the way, which I guess is only fitting, given I’m all but guaranteed to change along the way.
Right now, The Comma Project is a space to ask real questions, pursue truth, and to share the story of what it’s like for me to do this along the way. A place to wonder if it might be true for others, and what it’s like for others.
It’s also an invitation that I offer to you to come along and explore with me, together. An offer of authenticity, and an attempt to foster connection.
I believe this is the mission I’m on.
I believe it’s possible, because I’ve seen and felt glimpses of it elsewhere in the world.
Glimpses, but not the whole thing.
And this is why I’m working on Comma. I’m seeking to build something more aligned with this mission.
And the truth is, I’m still figuring out what that means, and what it looks like.
I’m still figuring out what parts of my story are for me, and should be kept as such, and which parts can serve this bigger mission.
Why and how?
Even as the answer to what Comma is is likely to change, I believe I have some foundational guideposts - the why and how - that will keep it all grounded.
Truth and integrity come to mind first, which is also why this journey sparked by reflecting on last week’s essay is so important.
I’m going to do it imperfectly. I’m going to make mistakes.
But I’m going to keep going, which is why courage also comes to mind.
As I’ve mentioned, I believe this is the point - the process of imperfection, of self-inquiry, of growth and becoming. And ultimately, of serving.
This is what I’m working towards.
And this is why I’m writing this piece, and why I’m not deleting the old one. I want to share the feedback I got, the questions I’ve been asking, and the process of answering them.
Which brings us here, and looking ahead.
More “this is my experience and what feels true for me.”
Less “this is true.”
Questions and story over statements of truth.
An offer, an invitation, over a declaration.
People need people
Another thing that stands out is that none of these reflections, this process, would be happening without other people. Without dialogue and conversation about these things.
I’m left thinking of how important it is to live a life surrounded with people that care enough to seek the same thing as me - truth - and to care enough about me to have the courage to tell me when they think I might be off track.
I’m reminded I can’t do this alone. Life is lived in relationship with others.
Pain comes as a result, but so does growth, healing, insight, learning.
Connection has been the vessel that’s carried me on the journey through the chaotic swells of questions, thoughts, and emotions towards truth - and it will continue to be.
I certainly know I can’t do it alone.
And this is The Comma Project that I’m working towards.
An invitation to be a partner in your process. Someone to ask questions that matter, the ones that challenge us to look for what’s true in ourselves, even when it’s difficult.
In my experience, it’s the partners that do so especially when it’s difficult that are the ones that are most meaningful.
The rare ones.
The ones that I need, even in moments when I feel that I don’t want them.
The ones that will stand there with me, challenge me to be better, hold me to a higher standard.
The ones who do it out of love, not judgement, and as a gift.
They’re the ones for whom my gratitude is deepest.
I will work to be one of those for you.
I can’t promise I’ll do it perfectly, but I promise I’ll do it with you.
So, for now, I write
I write for clarity.
I write for accountability.
I write to seek truth.
I write because truth feels expansive, joyful, clear, and peaceful.
I write because I believe it can help others.
I write to share with others, so they can move forward with me.
I write because I believe it can serve something bigger.
I write to invite others on that mission.
I write because I’m imperfect, but in process.
So, for now, I write.
This is The Comma Project
This is my project.
The Comma Project.
I invite you to join me.
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