ON BULLSHIT – Why Having a “Sharp Crap Detector” is Essential is Today’s Workworld!

When I was writing the book, The Career Chase 15 years ago and was explaining the necessity to become a Change Catalyst to learn new skills for the new rapidly upcoming age, I listed what I thought those new skills would be. Very quickly I said it would take courage, and confidence to change. We would have to make a commitment and take the challenge. It would require creativity, cooperation, curiosity, competence and this would result in compensation and gaining career control. Then I added common sense and noticed when I listed these traits somehow, automatically, they all started with a C. “Aha”! That’s when I realized I had learned something from that Ph.D. in English! If nothing else, I could alliterate.

However, when I looked at that list and thought something is missing I recalled that when I was teaching Freshman English at a university I was always thinking: What can I teach that was definitely going to be a value to them? I knew massive changes were coming in our future. So I told them that the purpose on an education was to teach them to have a sharp, “Crap Detector!” They should leave the university with the ability to detect crap in our society! Well, of course, they liked that notion.

Then I began to wonder where I picked that up. At first I thought I could use the word, cant, because Samuel Johnson, a man of the 18th century who wrote the first English dictionary, frequently used the word “cant” which people in his era overused usually as biased or religious words. However, was too obsolete.

I remembered I had read a story about Earnest Hemingway, who was being interviewed by reporter who kept asking, “What is the most important trait that a good writer must have to be successful?” Hemingway didn’t immediately answer and the reporter kept pushing him. Finally, Hemingway, in bit of disgust turned to him and said, “If you’re going to be a good writer, you’d better have a sharp crap detector!” Putting all this together, I decided I would use “crap detector.” However, my publisher, in the first two books would not use this word but they did slide it into the third book at my insistence.

A number of years ago I was giving a talk in Austin for a room full of Texas Career Counselors, I was taking about the characteristics of the Change Catalyst. I used “crap detector” in a rather apologetic way explaining that I was a little lady from the Silent Generation. A man stood up and said, “Well, Dr. Harkness, have you ever thought of using Bullshit?” I was shocked and I said, “Oh, no, I could never do that” and he said, “Well you might want to think about it!” Then he told us about Dr. Harry Frankfurt, a philosophy professor from Yale and Princeton who had written a book called, The Importance of What We Care About. One of the essays in it was called, On Bullshit. This essay became so popular that the publishers put it in a small special book. In 2006, they did say that, On Bullshit had been translated into 25 languages and sold more than 400,000 copies.

Recently I was thinking about Dr. Frankfurt’s work and I pulled out my copy of, On Bullshit. The first sentence hit me and I thought: how very on target this essay is for our present time! The first sentence is, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much Bullshit.” Then he writes, “Everybody knows this, each of us contributes his share, but we tend to take the situation for granted.” Bullshit is not exactly lies but it is not truths, it’s an attempt to mislead or deceive by talking nonsense. Dr. Frankfurt proposed in his work to begin the development of the theoretical understanding of bullshit – trying to figure out what it is and why no research had been done on this.

When I reread this, I thought how appropriate for us today in the society we are in! The current statistics tells us that about 70% of the people in this country have a mistrust of most of the big businesses and government rules. Maybe Bullshit is the best name for it all and maybe a sharp Crap Detector is our best weapon!

What do you think? You might want to read Frankfurt’s work.