The concept of lying is an interesting one to me. I have always been honest to a fault. Lying has always seemed much too complicated and I’ve never had enough of a sense of ambition or embarrassment to need to lie about things. I’ve done very few things in my life that I’ve felt that I needed to lie and say I didn’t do, and anything that I wanted people to think I did do, I’d just find a way to do. When asked a question it’s always my first instinct to just say the truth. It seems so much harder to think of a believable lie and to stick with it. I don’t have that kind of wit.
When people ask me what I think of their art/writing/music, I never sugarcoat it for them. Firstly because I want it to mean something when I tell someone that I do like something and I know they will believe it if I have a reputation as the guy who will tell you if he hates something, and secondly because I feel like there’s very little to be learned from positive feedback. I expect positive feedback from idiots who have nothing important to say. I start from the presupposition that anyone who shows me their creative projects takes them as seriously as I take mine and would like real criticism because they would like to have the opportunity for real improvement. A better poet than I am once said “I don’t learn anything when you tell me I did a good job.”
Some funny instances wherein I said the exact truth by instinct:
Early one Saturday morning when I was 15 years old, my friends and I had been out making mischief the night before which resulted in my kitchen being filled with a mountain of donut and cupcake boxes.
My Dad: Where did all these cupcakes come from?
Me: We stole them from a hostess truck.
My Dad: You’re grounded.
A Friday afternoon when I’m 19 years old, lying naked in bed with a girl.
Nina: Do you have sex with other girls?
Earlier this afternoon, in response to a facebook wall post from a girl I had a crush on two years ago:
Julie: How do you know my sister?
Me: I tried to hit on her on facebook without knowing she was your sister.
I also tend to have a very realistic view of myself and my own abilities and also I am very astute at seeing situations from other peoples’ perspective so I tend not to get as angry as easily as I could because oftentimes I can so easily see the other person’s side that I don’t get angry. I once got punched in the face for insulting someone’s girlfriend and never held a grudge against the guy because I would have done the exact same thing if the situation were reversed.
Well, the interesting part of all this that I’ve always had this theory in my head that honesty was — well for lack of a better cliche — the best policy. I thought that having the most realistic and honest perception of myself and others would only benefit me. This was the overarching theory regardless of the fact that I often felt mentally weak as a result. There was a nagging suspicion that honesty was the realm of the unimaginative. Think of Big Fish, “All of the facts, none of the flavour”. I am bothered by the fact that my favourite artists of course aren’t photo-realists. They’re primarily impressionists, and *gasp* surrealists. My favourite authors aren’t non-fiction writers, they’re novelists. So really, is judicial, journalistic, uncompromising honesty a really beneficial way to live life?
Well as I’ve said, it was my policy, but there was a nagging suspicion that it wasn’t necessarily the best policy. And then a stumbled across something that fucked my whole world up.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Radio Lab. It’s a radio show that comes on NPR, and produced at WNYC in New York. There are two hosts, Robert and Jad who take a different topic for each episode and explore the science surrounding it for an hour. They speak with experts, conduct experiments, and apply various levels of deductive and inductive reasoning. It’s a very entertaining show because it is not at all dry, the commentary and production style are very flashy and fun so it is very easy to listen to.
Anyway, I have listened to every episode and while they are all brilliant enough that they force you to redefine your thinking on that particular topic, one specific episode bothered me more than others, and it was the episode called Deception. The section toward the end bothered me in particular, because it focuses on self-deception.
To paraphrase the story at the end: researchers devised a set of embarrassing questions that people would be compelled to lie about. Questions, for example, like “have you ever thought about raping someone?” Which are almost universally true but which are not pleasant to admit. They then surveyed people with the unpleasant questions and realized that people who lie to themselves (people who couldn’t admit to the unpleasant questions) were generally people who were more successful in life. Surprising huh? But when you think about the level of denial that is required to take the risks and put forth the effort that is necessary for success it makes sense.
A person who thinks they can be the best swimmer will always be more confident than a person who has so-called “realistic” ideas about their capabilities. A standup comedian I like once said that (paraphrasing) “denial is necessary to be a comedian because for the first few years you have to stand up in front of an audience and bomb and then say to yourself ‘that went great'”.
It sorta blew my whole perception of the world apart. It’s been really depressing to me that my entire mindset for my whole life has been setting me up for failure. I feel like it’d be easy to start lying to other people but I don’t know that I could ever get to the point where I was lying to myself; that’s a mindset that I’ve always had, as far back as I can remember.
So really, not only has my tendency toward honesty often have terrible social ramifications (see above) but also sets low mental standards for myself and inhibits my potential. It frustrates me that the trait I value most in people, and that I’ve always thought was my best quality is not necessarily a good thing. It is infuriating to me also that to some degree I equate realism and honesty with intellectual superiority. I hate to think that dumb rednecks who walk around with their chests puffed out talking about how they’re hot shit are, on some level, hotter shit than me.
If you pause to think about the ramifications of this idea, you can see that more realistic people are always more unhappy. Every pessimist and cynic considers themself a realist, and to some degree that’s probably true. Ignorance is truly bliss. The people who are realistic enough to realize how truly fucked the world is, to realize how little and unimportant they are, how limited their capabilities are and how short life is, are the people who are least capable of accomplishing great things. The world is literally so fucking insane that you have to be be sorta insane to make it.
There’s no place in life for an honest guy. And that’s the truth.