Tag Archives: truth

Lies We Tell Teenagers…and Ourselves

I spend a lot of time with teenagers.  Wait, that sounds possibly incriminating.  What I mean is, I spent a lot of time watching teenagers…Damn it!  That sounds much worse.  Okay, my time spent volunteering as a tutor with struggling middle school students places me in a position from wherein I can observe the day-to-day behavior of a large group of teenagers better than most adults.  (Yeah, that sounds sufficiently neutral and creepy-free).

And in my time with the up-and-coming minds of tomorrow, I have noticed that a lot of teens easily buy into a lot of fabrications we adults tell them to ease their pubescent angst; with some lies being more innocent than others.

Lie:  Acne clears up on its own with time.

  • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!…No, just no.  Now, if you have like one or two zits on your face all throughout your adolescents, then sure, it’ll probably clear up.  But if you have a face with a noticeable amount of acne, getting some Neutrogena products now would be a wise investment for the future.

Lie:  Bullies will get what’s coming to them once they enter the real world.

  • Although it would make us all feel great to know how the asshole who used to tease us relentlessly in gym class is doomed to spent a lifetime performing degrading tasks in low-paying jobs, the truth is that in a lot of situations today’s bullies end up being tomorrow’s corporate leaders.  The reason being that the job sector often equates aggressive personalities with competence, so there is a reasonable chance that the sort of guy who used to bully you, will be the sort of guy who will be your boss one day (which goes to explain why so many of our employers come across as such douchebags all the time).

Lie:  To achieve, you just need to believe.

  • Believe what, exactly?  That you have the talent to make it in your chosen interests?  Sure, I can see that as an important factor, but it’s hardly ever the definitive ingredient to get you to your goal.  More than believing in yourself, you will need to know people.  Without proper connections you won’t go far in what ever it is you’re aiming to do.  But with the need to acquire connections, also comes the need to flatter said important connections.  In short, you have to be a bit of a kiss-ass politician, ready to adjust your views and positions to endear your possible contributors to your side.  Which also refutes another popular fib claiming that a person “must always stay true to her/himself”, with the missing qualifier being: except if you want to climb as high as possible on that social ladder).

Lie:  Wisdom comes with age.

  • Absolutely.  But so does senility, dementia, and an over-hyped feeling of self-righteousness.  Yes, I know a great deal of elderly people who are brilliant, knowledgeable, and insightful.  But by all accounts I have been given, they appear to have possessed all of those positive qualities as much in their 30s, as they do in their 60s, and 70s.  On the flip side, I have also known (as I’m sure all of you reading have, too) quite a lot of elderly people who were racist, ignorant, and hysterically paranoid about the world.  And, yes, I imagine they were all these things in their youths as well, but age hasn’t made them any wiser, it just seems to have amplified all of their bad personality quirks.  The simple truth is that organs decay with time; your brain being an organ, will eventually start decaying, taking your mind with it.  Age, by definition, is not a remedy to this dilemma.

I’m sure there are plenty of more examples of lies we tell teenagers out there (and if you have any good ones I would be more that happy to read them), but I think that I made my point.  And to any teenagers reading this, let me just say–in the spirit of honestly–that we adults lie to ourselves when we say that the reason we deceive you is to ease the social pressures you’re going through.  The greater reason is that we lie as a means of getting you to shut up about your problems (because shit if we know how you’re supposed to solve any of them).  But to make it up to you, hear is a picture of a cute koala bear.

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On Honesty…

“Honesty is always the best policy.  Life and society would be much better if everyone was completely honest.”

Really?  All right, let us begin by acknowledging some truths as a baseline:

  • All laws ad authorities that we rely on to survive in society only exist as long as a majority of us are willing to go along with them.
  • There is a strong probability that when you are long dead 100 years from now, few will remember you, and your greatest personal accomplishments will be long forgotten.
  • It’s most likely that your significant other first noticed your sexual desirability prior to coming even close to caring about your intellect and personality.
  • Age will obliterate your sexual desirability.
  • All the flaws you notice in yourself, others notice, too.  They just don’t care, because your personal problems don’t affect their lives.
  • On average, your children have as good a chance of becoming failures in their lives, as they do of becoming successes.
  • Money can buy happiness.  But it’s just unlikely that you will ever make enough to really know it.

Is your life better off now that these truths have been pointed out to you?

The moral indignation people have about honesty is what makes lying such a dire necessity.  What makes the dubiousness of our collective social modesty all the more palatable to ourselves is preserving lies as a daily course on the menu, and honesty as a mere condiment that we can mistake for the meal.

Dale Carnegie Was Wrong

If you’ve ever taken a Communications or Business class, or sat in on any sort of marketing/networking seminar, there is a very good chance that Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People was listed among the recommended readings on the syllabus.

In the book, Carnegie sets out to give a list of very basic advice on how to successfully interact with people, and increase your own potential by doing so.  The advice given seems very reasonable in a broad sense, and can be summed up in terms of being genuine and polite towards others, approaching everyone with a positive attitude, and reaping the personal satisfaction and interpersonal accolades that come from it.  All this is well and good, and I’ll be the first to tell people that if you wish for others to like you, not behaving like a complete dick towards them will go a long way in accomplishing this goal.  Moreover, if Carnegie’s book(s) help anyone achieve a mental state that makes them feel more empowered and confident in how s/he communicates and carries her/himself (not to mention, increases the person’s overall happiness), I have no qualms with that aspect of his method.

However, all that being said, it would be dishonest if I did not mention how there is something that always irked me about Carnegie’s writing, in particular this one book.  I think my problems with the self-help author are best summarized at the very beginning of Chapter One of Part Three titled, “You Can’t Win An Argument.”  In it, Carnegie tells the story of an event that occurred when an acquaintance he was having a conversation with mistakes an obvious quotation from Hamlet as being from the Bible.  Carnegie, aware of the error, corrects the man, and looks to his accompanying friend (an expert on the subject) to back him up in the correction.  Surprisingly, the friend sides with the gentleman who is in error, later telling Carnegie he did so because to correct the man would not accomplish anything positive.  Carnegie happily agrees with this reasoning, and advises readers to take it to heart that you should not correct such obvious mistakes made by others on account that it would make you argumentative, and being argumentative will not make people like you.  Presumably, the proper thing to do when confronted with such a situation is to be accommodating and refrain from saying anything that is not agreeable.

I take issue with this line of thinking.  Not because I see a great merit in being argumentative with people, but because I see something disturbingly manipulative in this tactic of communication, which I believe to be a problem at the core of much of the self-help market.  Carnegie asks us what good there is to stand firm and prove to the mistaken man that he is wrong, pointing to the desire to be held in high-esteem as the main priority.  But why should being liked be of a greater priority in this situation than being honest?  If it’s because it will be personally beneficial for you to always be seen in agreeable terms by those around you in case you need to call on them for favors down the road, then you are not looking to make real friends or honestly communicate with people at all; your interests lies in simply using people for your personal interests.  Because if this is not the case, and the stated goal is to form genuine relationships with people, then you should (as politely and lovingly as you can) seek to uphold a standard of honesty with those around you.  This includes being honest when you know that an acquaintance has made a minor mistake, such as mistaking the source of a quote.

I have made silly mistakes and the occasional faux pas on many occasions (and will undoubtedly make many more to come).  Sometimes, those around me correct said mistakes; other times, no correction is made and my ignorance remains unchecked until I happen to come across the truth of the matter first-hand.  Every time it happens, I felt like an idiot, and, yes, slightly resentful that my ignorance was in full view to the public.  But you know what definitely never happened again?  A repetition of that same display of ignorance on my part, on that same subject I was previously so wrong about.

I believe this is something Carnegie fails to address in his work.  And the reason this is a problem is that books like How to Win Friends & Influence People present themselves as being based on the principle that the fundamental way to succeed in getting what you want from others is to first be mindful of the wants and desires of other people.  In terms of building empathy, this is a principle I can truly get behind.  What I can’t get behind is the idea that pandering to the ignorance of those we wish to like us is something an honest person should strive for.  What I outright reject is the idea that communication skills ought to be built on chess-level moves of strategy and tactic, wherein the goal is to say just the right buzzwords to manipulate a desired outcome.

And no, despite what some self-appointed “straight-talkers” with a public platform wish to promote, standing up for what is true should not require you to disregard sensitivity towards others’ dignity and give you a license to be a total asshole in how you communicate with people under the guise of honesty.  To be honest is to simply be sincere with what you know to be true, and I believe making friends on the basis of such sincerity is a better approach, then looking to avoid making enemies by kissing the ass of anyone who might seem influential enough to give you a leg up in life simply for being their Yes-Man.