Beyond the fairly simple premise of “say what you mean and mean what you say” there’s clearly a lot of ground for doing otherwise: for white lies, social niceties, saving face, protecting feelings, greasing the wheel, subterfuge, and so on. A whole world of options between truth and illusion where we might choose to set up camp and live our lives. How, then, can we ever know where we stand?
Maybe the world would be a hurtful place if everyone said what they really thought – something like the “honesty” we find online, veiled by cloaks of anonymity. If people don’t know or care for one another, maybe honesty becomes more of a weapon than a helpful tool for establishing a sense of certainty, truth or trust (Notes One).
Thinking about life, though – about thought and language, communication and meaning – what are we doing when we veil our honesty in these ways? If “to be human” is to see the world in thought and seek to make sense of it, what does it mean if much of what we’re hearing isn’t entirely clear? If, behind almost every word, there’s subtext or context essential to rightfully interpreting any given fact.
Maybe it’s simply communication: words and their meaning; the added envelopment of relationship, body language or tone; then our ability to decipher it all and arrive at the correct “reading” of whatever information we’re receiving (Notes Two). Unravelling all the layers of any statement to determine the intentions of the speaker and context into which they spoke, though, seems to be becoming increasingly difficult.
Isn’t technology stripping a lot out? These bare words travelling out there alone, devoid of all that might’ve been meant to go along with them. The warmth and humanity of their origins potentially lost as they make their way into others’ psyches and take on whatever coating is placed upon them there. Don’t we risk being trapped in prisons of our own making? Viewing everything in the light of our own mind. (Notes Three)
As with many things in modern life, what seems simple has sometimes become strangely complicated. Conventions such as diplomacy having arisen within or between specific communities, groups or cultures, there must’ve been a reasonable amount of agreement as to their usage – a sort of unspoken code. Conversations also tending to take place behind closed doors, between known individuals.
Now, so many conversations seem to be these open, fluid events where people speak or listen from vastly different perspectives, backgrounds, agendas and sides. Without a firmly established set of conventions guiding these interactions, everyone seems free to take from them what they will and combine it all with the pre-existing contents of their minds however they see fit. (Notes Four)
I’m not sure where this train of thought is headed, but presumably we can’t really know where we stand? Communication might have got a lot “easier” and “freer” in recent decades, but the idea of understanding what it all means doesn’t seem at all straightforward.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Plausible deniability
Note 1: Is honesty actually the best policy?
Note 1: Seeing, knowing and loving
Note 1: Value in visible impacts
Note 2: What we say & what we mean
Note 2: Sensitivity & the place for feeling
Note 2: Reading between the lines
Note 2: What is it with tone?
Note 3: Joining the dots
Note 3: Does being alone amplify things?
Note 3: Conversation as revelation
Note 4: Social starting points for modern ways
Note 4: The sense of having a worldview
Note 4: Codes of behaviour
On the flipside, the value of “lying” was also one element of Is telling people what we want to be true a lie?