Tuesday, April 28, 2015

White Lies as Mental Laziness

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where it appeared on July 28, 2014. Topic credit: &TheresaWiza postedwww.bubblews.com/news/4158295-are-you-teaching-your-kids-to-lie . Image credit: Priyanphoenix at Morguefile.com.)

Some adults like to believe in, and teach children about, a concept Americans often call "white lies." The idea is that these lies are told not for personal gain, but to spare someone's feelings. Actually, of course, if the person ever finds out that s/he is being "spared," the emotional repercussions may be worse than if the "white liar" had told the truth...or even blurted out the horrid half-truth that came to his or her mind.

The classic example that's often used is "Suppose your Aunt Agnes has a habit of buying frightful-looking hats and asking you how you like them. Of course you can't tell her you hate them. So you have to lie."

I suppose, just to get this possibility out of the way, that some people's aunts do enjoy forcing their nieces and nephews to lie and say "It looks beautiful!" None of my aunts ever seemed to be that kind, and now that I am an aunt, with a habit of knitting hats some of which The Nephews might describe as frightful-looking, I'm definitely not that kind. I'm guessing that a majority of elderly relatives 
would rather hear the truth.

I'm also guessing that, for a majority of younger relatives, "I hate it" is not really the truth. You don't lie awake in the middle of the night muttering to yourself, "Ugly hats! I hate ugly hats! I'll show those horrible old hats! I'll get those hats if it's the last thing I ever do!" So what you really think about Aunt Agnes's latest hat is probably "dislike," and it's probably more complex and interesting than the mere feeling of dislike:

"It makes your face look wider."

"The color clashes with your clothes, or with your face."

"It looks like the one I saw fall to the ground when a drunken female was arrested for soliciting the last time I was in the city. Please tell me you didn't buy it secondhand in the same city."

"It looks like one that Joan Crawford wore in one of her movies, and I know you love Joan Crawford's movies, but I don't."

"I usually recognize you by looking at your hair, so when you cover your hair you look like a stranger to me."

"For some reason I actually think it looks sexy, and aunts shouldn't be sexy."

"I suspect you're asking me whether I want it as a Christmas gift, and what I want is a computer video exercise game."

Most of these things don't even need much editing to be acceptable things to say to your ever-loving Aunt Agnes. She might think that nephews shouldn't know the word "sexy," and she might appreciate having #4 shortened to just "It looks like one that Joan Crawford wore," but unless she has a major mood disorder, the truth even about her silly hat isn't going to do all that much damage to her feelings.

Theoretical discussions of Aunt Agnes's hats have been posted at several web sites, and the possibilities can become quite improbable. I think the real truth, not the hasty blurt of emotion, is almost always the best choice for each possibility I've seen discussed.

What if Aunt Agnes wants to wear a flowerpot for a "hat"...to church? Would "I'm afraid it's going to fall off your head and break your toe" be the real truth? Is that such a cruel, hurtful thing to say?
I think this thought is worth posting at Bubblews because I think it's something we're practicing at Bubblews. I don't see a lot of flamewars on this site.

I see some comments that are close to outright lies--the "Great post..." comments on posts that certainly are not great literature and don't even report especially good news. I wondered, "Why do people even bother pasting those in, now that the 'like' button is working? Or is it not working for them?" Then I got one from a Bubbler whose posts I'd read, and all became clear. The person was using some sort of computer translation program to post in English. The person probably did not feel capable of writing a polite comment in English during the time reserved for commenting. How was the person going to attract readers to the person's own Bubbles without commenting on ours? Hence the mindless, to some people even annoying, comment. 

Why does "Great post" sound annoying? Because it reminds us of "I know you don't like Aunt Agnes' hat, nobody could possibly like Aunt Agnes' hat, but you have to say you like her hat so that you don't hurt her feelings." Nobody wants to be in the position of Aunt Agnes. And I'd guess that, the more dutifully somebody muttered "I adore your new hat, Aunt Agnes," the more their blood pressure rises when they read "Great post" as a comment on what they know is an average, even boring post.

I see other comments that actually seem to encourage other Bubblers. It's not necessary to pretend that a paragraph or two about what someone did this weekend is one of the world's great literary masterpieces. "Enjoy your holiday" and "Nice picture" and "I hope your dog feels better by now" may actually be more encouraging, because they tell us the truth--we already knew the Bubble wasn't a great classic of English literature, but it's nice that some of our friends read it and wanted to express their feeling that it's nice that we're still alive.

If I'm right about this, blog forums may be a real blessing to all the aunts out there...