A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying is worth a read.
If you take nothing else from that article, believe this: wu-wei – effortlessness – is one of the secrets of effective truth-telling. It is an essential skill if you want to be a truly game-changing public advocate.
Ben Franklin said “Honesty is the best policy.” The full subtlety of that proverb is lost in modern English, because the word “policy” has shifted in meaning. In Franklin’s time the word had connotations of willed manipulation and deception that it has since lost. Translated into modern English it reads like “Honesty is the most effective way to manipulate people.”
And so, the wu-wei paradox of effective advocacy. To manipulate, speak truth. But it’s not enough to have the truth to speak; you need to be able to say it without strain, in a way that flows naturally from who you are. What is powerful is not just to speak truth but be made of truth clear inward to your bones.
I’m speaking lived experience here, not theory. I have spent decades becoming the kind of person to whom speaking the clearest truth I can formulate, even when it’s uncomfortable for me or socially frowned upon by others, comes as naturally as breathing. Audiences sense this naturalness and respond to it. This is why, when I speak difficult truths in public, I am much better than most people at inducing my listeners to actually grapple with them.
Sadly, there are other effective ways to manipulate people. The world is full of demagogues and sociopaths. But I believe wu-wei truthfulness has a tendency to win in the end, So: to persuade others of the truth, first uproot every lie from your own mind..