Find a Reality-Check Friend: How to Avoid the Trap of Believing Our Own Hype

Find a Reality-Check Friend: How to Avoid the Trap of Believing Our Own Hype

There is a scene in the underrated film Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in which beleaguered former boy bander and current solo star Conner4Real starts to question the motives of the people around him. He worries he is surrounded by yes-men, and to find out whom he can truly trust, he constructs a delicious little test. (Note there are some NSFW language and situations in this clip.)

He learns his childhood friend Owen is the only person around him whom he can trust to tell him the truth. Everyone else is just guessing what he wants to hear so they can stay in his good graces and keep their spot on the gravy train.

The Conner4Real dynamic happens everywhere, in all walks of life. You get good at something, you earn a lot of money, you find fame or acquire power, and there will always be people who will suck up to you in the hopes of benefiting personally. In jiu-jitsu we call this “nut-hugging” or “jock-riding,” and maybe that is what it’s called in other subcultures too. For people who only want to be agreed with or complimented, this phenomenon is nice work, if you can get it. Such people never have to hear bad news, and more importantly, they never have to question and perhaps modify their own behavior, because they are never told they are wrong. They get to live in their own personal echo chambers according to their own value systems, which in their minds puts them in charge and frees them from all accountability. In short, they start to believe they are a black belt in everything.

Of course, Conner comes off like a total chump in this clip, and I do not recommend you test any of your inner circle the way he does, but the point is this: We all need people in our lives who will have the integrity to us to tell us when they believe we are being unreasonable, or in some cases, ridiculous. It is then our job to accept that feedback and use it to make more appropriate choices, choices that reflect that everyone, not just famous people or rich people or more highly-ranked or decorated people, has the right to have their interpersonal boundaries respected.

In the jiu-jitsu world, it is pretty much expected that when we step on the mat, we defer to those who outrank us. The idea is that those more highly ranked have more expertise in technique, in keeping others safe, and in defusing any potential altercations because they have been around more. This is a sound argument, and it is fair for upper belts to be treated with the respect they have earned as a result of achieving a specific belt level in the context of jiu-jitsu.

This becomes problematic, however, when people who have some expertise in jiu-jitsu start to believe they have 1) expertise in other things, 2) the responsibility to tell others how they should live their lives based on that perceived expertise, 3) the right to conclude that anyone who disagrees with them on matters of opinion is just incorrect, rather than someone with a legitimate right to their own beliefs (e.g., “Blue is a stupid color, and you are stupid to like it.”), 4) no need ever to question their own behavior or beliefs, because they are never wrong about anything.

It sounds outrageous—or I hope it does—but it happens a lot, in the jiu-jitsu world and elsewhere. So, what’s the solution? Get yourself a friend like Owen. I have one, and while I like to think I am too virtuous to need him, that is the very reason I do. I actually have many friends like this, but this particular friend has distinguished himself with his trash talking, usually about my age (“What was it like before talkies?”) or my snobbishness (“Some lady who flew Qantas tweeted that the airline employee didn’t call her ‘doctor.’ That was you, wasn’t it?”)

I know it is good for me to have friends like this, both because they are hilarious and also because they remind me not to take myself too seriously. They say that your real friends are the ones who will tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. So, while I may not need to hear that I am closer to being eligible for AARP than I am to my college years, I do sometimes need to hear that I ain’t perfect and that my sh*t pancakes are just that. No belt color, accomplishment, or amount of intellectual gymnastics on my part should be enough to convince me that I am better than anyone else when it comes to basic humanity. If we want to be forces for good in the world, jiu-jitsu and otherwise, and we have any authority or sway over the people around us, we would do well to allow into our lives at least a few people who will always tell it like it is and who will do us the priceless service of reminding us of our imperfections.

Pro tip: If the thought of allowing someone close to you who will be anything less than uniformly complimentary and agreeable (“You’re always right,” “Whatever you want to do,” “Your farts smell like Drakkar Noir”) makes you in any way agitated or uncomfortable, find some Owens yesterday. And keep them around even and especially if you become infuriated when they disagree with you.

Do you have an Owen in your life? Share your stories in the comments section.