I thought about writing another advice article, this time about something like breastfeeding, but decided it’s not the right time. I thought about writing about how broken the family law system or child welfare system is, but decided it’s not the right time. I thought about writing about why I hate Santa Clause with a burning passion, but decided it was not the right time.
I’m been thinking a lot about time lately, specifically about seeking the “right time.” It’s an interesting concept. It’s also not really a skill I’ve ever mastered, or a skill I’ve ever tried to master, probably because I feel conflicted about it. And by conflicted, I mean I detest the idea.
I was talking with my mom this morning about pretending to be nice, or saying polite things to seem nice. We’ve gone round and around about this for as long as I can remember. For her it always comes down to the basic principle that it’s always most important to be nice. She is a firm believer in her grandmother’s favorite saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And she means it. For me it always comes down to the basic principle that it is more important to be honest.* She would like add, “brutally.”
We were talking about this concept in the specific context of legal paper trails and someone we know who is going through a divorce where custody is involved. Her lawyer gave her some advice: be polite, say nice things, even if you don’t mean them, so that if a judge looks back over your correspondence, you seem like a nice, relatable person. That makes sense. Smart. Very practical advice. Especially when the other side is a master at it. I am a practical person, and I value practical advice. But I don’t like fake. I don’t like games.
I don’t like anything that even comes close to being fake. It’s not real, and to put it bluntly, it’s a form of a lie, even if it is low ____ on the spectrum. Why say, “I hope you have a great holiday season” when you really hope, at worst, that the person in question had terrible food poisoning and spent the holidays over a toilet, or at the very best feel indifferent about his holiday experience, and hadn’t really thought about how his holiday was in the first place? To look better? Why say “thank you” to someone for intentionally making your life difficult and providing basic information provided by law? I mean, I know why, but why? Do we think that wishing a sociopath “Merry Christmas” is going to magically make him not a sociopath? Do we think telling him to have a great weekend is going to make him less likely to be nasty? No. But we probably do think that doing those things will make other people believe that we are the innocent parties. Perhaps even a way to be seen as a victim.
To some extent, I get it. It’s difficult for a judge, or for anyone unfamiliar with the details of a situation, to read a few emails and determine that someone is a sociopath, especially if that person is skilled at hiding it. They can only use what they see, and if most of what they see are emails, it only makes sense that they use that information to guide them, and if one person is constantly polite and the other is dismissive, it looks like one person is nice and the other is non responsive.
It’s also bullshit.
When this topic comes up one of the responses I’ve heard fairly regularly is something like, “His time will come,” or “Be nice now, but choose your moment later.” The whole idea is that by playing by a certain set of rules, we set ourselves up to win later in the game. And I agree, and I also think that chess is a great game (Monopoly too), but in real life, I’m just not sure that’s the right approach.
For one thing, I don’t want to choose my moment. It’s not that I don’t want to do the calculation (although I don’t), it’s that I don’t want to be a calculating person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who calculates. I could be. I know I could be. I watched both of my parents do it masterfully (in different ways) from a very young age, and I am smart and possess a great deal of self-control when I have to. Except really, I couldn’t be. Or maybe I could be, but I would hate myself. All of the pieces are there, but they don’t quite fit, because I don’t want them to. That desire to manipulate people just isn’t there. I don’t want to be liked or loved or rewarded for being something other than myself. I don’t want to live my life that way. I don’t want my children to live their lives that way.
I don’t want to play games or tiptoe around. I want to be kind, and I want other people to be kind, but not fake kind, actually kind. I want to be able to tell someone who is very badly behaved to fuck off, and I want to tell someone who is kind I think they are wonderful and I want those words to have meaning.
Maybe all of this is childish. Everyone lies. Right? I’ve seen Liar, Liar. Lying is just part of living life as a grown up, in the real world. We lie to get what we want, or we choose our moment to get what we want. We formulate a plan and use it to build better lives. But what if we saved our planning for meals and investment portfolios? What if we interacted with each other without planning or games?
I’m not saying we should run up to people and tell them they got a bad haircut, or ask people if their teeth are fake (something my son actually asked last weekend), or tell people their teeth look gray (another thing my son actually said last weekend). We all have the option of saying nothing, or of telling the truth in a non-hurtful manner. Although, if we shared that information out of kindness, and we didn’t play games, it would be like gently warning someone they have food in their teeth. My son certainly didn’t comment about the teeth to make anyone feel bad. He made an observation and shared it. It was true and no harm was meant. Still, people find that more offensive than “fibbing.”
What if we all tried to be honest, without calculation, for a full week? Would the world fall apart? Would we discover world peace?
I suppose many people would take advantage. “Oh, so-and-so said X? How could she? I don’t think that’s true at all!” Some jack ass out there would continue his calculations and use it as an opportunity to climb a ladder and make the rest of us look bad.
It would also be a lot of work. We would have to be thoughtful in our interactions with each other. Answer to questions like, “How are you?” would become more complicated. We would probably consider our responses more carefully, in a good way, and focus on the most honest answer rather than the most convenient.
Of course I realize we live in the real world, the grown up world, so I will have to continue to find a way to balance my need to survive with my need and desire for honesty. Maybe honesty is my Santa Claus. There’s something to think about.
*I am not claiming to be 100% honest. No one is. I guess Jesus was. And Mary. But I bet even Joseph told a white lie now and then. Still, I really do avoid it when reasonably possible, and every time I am conscious of telling a lie, I think I die a little bit inside. People who know me well know that I am a terrible liar, not just because I can’t lie convincingly (I can’t), but also because it eats me up inside and the truth has to come out, kind of like this guy.