I sometimes wonder why the older generations – my forefathers and -mothers, and my parents and teachers and leaders – put such a priority on goodness. Things like respect, trust, courtesy, honesty, keeping promises, hard work, commitment, modesty, frugality and fairness. People used their own consciences to determine if they were good and bad. They always used terms like “you need to be able to sleep with yourself”. And how do you do that when we have days and ways of communication and lies.
Kids were raised with strict manners. Shaking another person’s hand when you meet them. Now, some people seldom look others in the eye upon meeting. And for me, as a woman, few things are as attractive as a man looking me squarely in the eye, or even a student. I feel seen.
Communication and lies
What was there in it for them, living good values generations ago? It must have been much easier to be noticed in a community when you were not good. But who cared? Well, I think it was mainly for yourself and for the sake of your own pride and self-respect. I am not sure that it is the same these days. Communication did NOT improve. Technology, yes. But not quality of communication, no.
I am not sure that it is the same these days, if I randomly look around me. I see the exact opposite of traditional good values today.
Of all of the so-called good values, it is particularly the one about honesty that fascinates me. These days, it is quite easy to lie. With all the social media platforms and the internet, it is so much harder to “steal” or plagiarize something from others, or to just deny away something that happened. There are 7 billion people, who is going to notice?
On the other hand, I think it may conversely be harder, I think, to get away with lies these days, because there are all these social platforms and Facebook friends. And that pesky, stupid, wonderful Google that thinks it knows everything (because it does.) To be one of seven billion makes it quite easy to disappear, to become “grey” and hide in the shadows of lala-land, if one really wants to. Or have to, or need to.
I have read many mails, posts and stories over the past two weeks. And once again, I realized how much we love stories, and what we learn from them even without really realizing it. So let me put a story and musings about honesty together.
A story about drugs and lies
Yesterday and on Tuesday, there were stories and pictures of a gangster killing in the drug-infested Belhar and Delft in Cape Town. On New Year’s Eve, between 03:00 and 04:00, a car-full of four young adults returned from a celebratory night on the town. I first read that the two girls involved were sisters, because they had the same surnames. Later, another report said that they were cousins with the same surname. Both 17, both beautiful and so happy, on the cusp of their grownup lives. The two cousins were with their boyfriends, also long-time friends in real life.
But the guys were suspected, alleged drug-dealers, aged, 26 and 24 respectively; or so the reports said. I am wondering if drug-dealers would tell the truth to their young girl-friends and their parents? I am trying to imagine what went down in those homes with these vulnerable child-girls and sophisticated worldly men. I imagine a good many lies must have been told over time to the parents of the girls, and the men. After all, these guys have been killed because of they were hit as “drug-lords”. Maybe, though, the parents were not interested. Maybe they are just tired, and burdened by trying to make a living in a violent area, with vicious gangs; raising children in a country with no leadership and much too many criminals for our many prisons. Maybe, they just could not care anymore about arguing daily with an adamant teenager who believes she is invincible and in love with her Romeo who promised her a rose garden. Seventeen is still young to be out all night with men with a reputation, after all. And now they are dead, all four of them.
Maybe, though, the parents were not interested. Maybe they are just tired, and burdened by trying to make a living in a violent area, with vicious gangs; raising children in a country with no leadership and unemployment and too many criminals for our many prisons. Maybe, they just could not care anymore about arguing daily with an adamant teenager who believes she is invincible and in love with her Romeo who promised her a rose garden. Seventeen is still young to be out all night with men with a reputation, after all. And now they are dead, all four of them.
What were the stories of these people, and in those homes? Would anyone ever know the truth? I have two daughters, and I keep wondering what went down in those homes on the first day of the New Year.What a loss for any family. They had their future before them, lying to them that it is more exciting if they use drugs, are with dangerous sexy men, and having money that comes along with drug sales.
I know that one of the biggest lessons I was taught as a child and a teenager, even after becoming an adult, was that you should not ever lie. Never ever ever. My mom always said that the biggest legacy of my two sets of grandparents was that they tried to live truthfully. They were poor, not educated, worked hard and tried not to lie. Because no lying could change who and what they were. My maternal grandmother who lived through two wars and turned one hundred, had a saying: However fast a lie runs, the truth always catches up. There were times that I have lied, and quite honestly, it felt awful. I was petrified. It still feels terrible when I think of it, and how stupid it was. I could have just as well said that things were bothering me that I tried to run away from, and that it was a lie. I usually confessed and felt even more of a fool.
During my years as a lecturer in communication, I maintained that the biggest lies we tell, are the ones we tell ourselves.
Lying to ourselves is the biggest lie of all
The problem with lying to yourself is this (besides the fact that it always catches up): you can never be more honest with anyone else than you are with yourself. If you cannot tell yourself that you are jealous, in trouble, overweight, needy, sick, unhappy or bored or unfaithful or sad or whatever, how are you ever going to tell that to someone else?
So this year, one of my missions for myself is to really be brutally honest with myself, and never expect more honesty from anyone else than I am prepared to give myself. It is quite easy, for example, to choose to do online dating and believe that you are 58, or 64, when one is in fact 72. Question, though, is why would one do that? As my first boyfriend always prophetically said decades ago, “facts are facts”, and nothing can change that, ever.
A lie always leaks
The thing is that in our communication, there are always leaks. This is what we call our “communication spills” that are mostly nonverbal. An eye twitching, a giggle ever so often, taking your eyes off the conversation. A first-year student – a first-year, you guys! – came to see me a couple of years ago after my lecture about nonverbal and verbal communication. He asked me if I had ever watched the series, Lie to Me. And, said he, that is the best training and education I could ever get on nonverbal communication. I was too flabbergasted to ever reply. The premise of the series is true, however. Other people do know when you are fudging, or lying, or cheating. We just do not trust that knowledge in ourselves enough.
We always believe that we should rather trust the facts someone else gives us. But deep down, in your heart or tummy or feet or the hairs on our arms, you know something is off. So you google him or her, and bam, there is it! But why, o why?
Communication and lies
It is so hard, damn hard, to merely communicate with others. It is tough to communicate with ourselves, with important others, with insignificant others. So why complicate it even more by bringing a tiny lie into the mix? We should surely have more respect for ourselves, and respect for others, than play games like that.
We should know ourselves well enough to realize that lying about anything does not and cannot change who and what we are. We are merely trying to buy time with a lie, big or small.
Our lying leaders
In this country, we have a president and leadership who do not hesitate one second to lie. Time is running out for him and them. We all know the real story and the real message. We know about the lies. And there goes respect, out the window, crashing onto the pavement like melted bubblegum. Let’s not expect our silly president to be honest if we cannot do it ourselves. Seems like a bad choice, all in all, huh? Lying, being caught out, losing respect, being laughed at, and eventually living and dying with that silly, stupid little lie.
Seems like a bad choice, all in all, huh? Lying, being caught out, losing respect, being laughed at, and eventually living and dying with that silly, stupid little lie. (I have not yet submitted my tax returns, come to think of it. Tomorrow, first thing.)
Let’s lighten up and put on our Superman and Wonderwoman capes. Out with the grey lies, in with the red truth.
By being honest with ourselves and with others.
Hello honesty 2017
Hello, 2017, the year of good intentions! Included in the price: better communication with yourself and everyone else. Feeling lighter, happier, relieved and less grey.