Truly Terrible Advice: Find Your “True Self” and Be Authentic | Michael Puett


Ancient teachings from the western tradition have impressed on us the importance of authenticity and being true to one’s self. But what if those teachings set us on the wrong path? Michael Puett’s latest book is “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life” (

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Transcript – We tend to think we know what the good life is. So we tend to think basically to lead a good life you should look within, try to find yourself, find your true self and then spend your life being as sincere and authentic to that true self as you can. And if you do that the idea is you’ll live life on your own terms and sure you can’t control what will happen to you but at least you’ve lived your life as you were meant to live it and you’ll be true to yourself. Now that sounds great except suppose that all of it is wrong. Suppose as our philosophers here would say we’re a very, very messy selves. And we’re messy selves that fall into these patterns of responses in the world. And therefore what you’re finding when you look within are just these sets of patterned responses that you’ve fallen into. Now if that’s the problem that we face as humans then the notion of flourishing is very different. The way to live a flourishing good life is by breaking these patterns and creating worlds within which you and those around you can flourish. That’s a good life. And you’re not going to do it by looking within and finding yourself because again you’re probably just going to hit a bunch of patterns you’ve fallen into. And you’re focusing also on yourself whereas if we are patterned creatures much of what we are depends on these patterns we’re falling into with those around us. So the good life for these philosophers would mean you’re trying to create worlds within which you and those around you can flourish at a mundane level.

So immediate friendships, family at a larger societal level too. And that’s constant work. The idea is it’s constant work, working through these patterns we’re falling into, altering these patterns, breaking these patterns, creating different patterns and it’s an endless work of every situation from the very mundane to the very, very large scale of constantly trying to shift these patterns for the better. And the vision is that and really only that is what the good life is. The good life is a world in which as many of us as possible, ideally everyone is flourishing. And you’ll never get there but it’s a lifelong process of ever trying to create worlds within which we can flourish. Read Full Transcript Here: