Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Hate Fakes

When Thinly-Veiled Politeness is Just a Coward's Way to Lie

This is a reflection on the small talk and political correctness that so invades day-to-day interactions. It is a description of some of the "tells" and the effect the "unwritten rules" have on intimacy and truth.

Yes. You read the title right. I said I *hate* fakes. That isn't just some hyperbolic brevity pulled out of some "writer's toolbox" - I mean the very word. But, with such a strong affective declaration, I will accept that it would behoove me to at least offer a considerate explanation as to why.

The first thing I need to point out is that I don't "hate" fakes for their deceitful posturing as it reflects on them. That isn't for me to judge or a matter for which I need to or should have any real emotional response other than bemused disgust or a carefully stifled chuckle-snort. What? "Stifled", I say? Yep. Not because I wish to be deceitful. It's one thing to "play the game" and try to pull one over on the other for personal gain, or especially to hurt an innocent. It's quite another to gratuitously run up to somebody whose appearance *you* judge to be inferior and offer up a "truthful" "Boy! Are you ugly!"

Yes, that is an example of *radical* honesty. I first heard the term on an NPR broadcast of Fresh Air with host Terry Gross, as her guest, Dr. Brad Blanton, went on to describe an ultra-honesty, no, a downright *literal* honesty, where the response "Fine, and you?" to the greeting "Hi, Joe! How are you?" is an out-and-out lie unless you do, in fact, feel and are "fine". I long and pine and patiently wait for such a demeanor and communicative comportment to become the norm, but I'm not holding my breath. Nor do I feel that to blurt out a raw and/or painful truth, when unsolicited, and when the utterer is not morally responsible to deliver such guidance or has any other honest choice, or who, as in the case of a young child, just doesn't know any better, is anything other than rude and just plain mean.

Yet, here I will also point out my deeply genuine affection for children in their capacity to "deliver the goods" without an ounce of pretense.

"Mister, how come you have such a big tummy?"

"Ew! My big sister says that she thinks smokers are just soshpally axpectable addicts!"

"Jonathon James Doe! Say excuse me! Do you have to use the bathroom?"
"It wasn't me! It was Grammy! I heard it come from her chair!"

This isn't a piece about the "good old days" sentimentality or a channeling of some Norman Rockwell simplicity that hasn't existed for a long time - and frankly, in this artist's quaintest small-town renderings, never really did.

Well, except for children!

Now, at what point does social sophistication impose itself upon these innocents and render them almost too wordly to divulge any of their lingering naivete? When do they - when do we - learn to put up walls and hide behind the habits advised by such icons as Emily (Price) Post or Judith Martin (better known by her pen name, Miss Manners)? I am not abdicating basic manners outright, as I explained in the second paragraph of this piece. Quite frankly, I feel I've gone a bit too far out on this tangent only out of the desperate need to qualify that fact and get it out of the way so that the point isn't clouded by that separate matter.

Indeed, manners and etiquette are not the only rules and social conventions whose abuses I decry. It is the *expectation* of a facility and untaught mastery of said skill and diplomacy that I find deeply offensive. Heck, it isn't even so much the expectation, but the myriad cruel and scandalously unfair ways in which these expectations manifest.

Jimmy goes to school in the wrong style, or a zit he couldn't cover up, and boom - he's a target. He fumbles in gym class or gets a case of the hiccups during math (and children don't yet have the liberty to discretely disappear to take care of the matter, lest they incur the wrath of the teacher!, unless said teacher is sophisticated enough (and I'll add attentive and empathetic enough!) to catch what's happening), and his social status is reduced.

Smith, who is a wiz at technical trouble-shooting but rather oblivous to matters not articulated in bits and bytes, is unaware that it is the boss's birthday and is the only one who shows up to work without a card or gift. Or worse, he never signed the card that got passed around while he was busy "de-fragging" this or installing that. The irony is that while he ends up looking thoughtless, cheap, or selfish, HIS are the feelings that get bruised the most - and yet again - by colleagues who sputter "Oh, sorry!", while not-so-secretly covetting the slightly more exclusive status they enjoy because they aren't the office geek or inept little clown.

There is another setting in which this expectation of basic social sophistication and the ability to discern the unwritten rules - the "spirit" of the law, so to speak. And that is - well - the law! - ie, our criminal justice system. There is even some pedantic premise imbedded in jurisprudence called "Ignorantia juris non excusat" which is literally translated as "ignorance of the law does not excuse" - or the more common but slightly less accurate translation of "ignorance of the law is no excuse". I'll not go into a bold and blatant contradiction of that unfair and unconstitutional principle (oh, yes, it is - take a look at the 9th Amendment), is another principle called the Void for Vagueness Doctrine. It basically states that you cannot expect the average citizen to discern for himself a law that isn't specifically spelled out, nor can you in good faith punish him for "not knowing that he didn't know".

What ties all three scenarios together is this elitist mindset that if you don't get it, you don't matter. If you haven't learned how to fake it, you're just going to have to learn to *take* it! And that's bull. When did it become a matter of moral or legal or social import for that matter, to learn how to hide who you are and what you love? When did it become stigmatic to openly make a mistake or - God forbid! - just not know something?!

Heh. I guess, on that matter, I'll never know. I'll just have to fake it.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the way you presented this article!