Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

On Hypocrisy and Duplicity

Originally posted on July 23, 2010

I was reading a humor book in which one of the themes is the two-column list of what “he said” and what he really thought but would not say—or how that phrase might be covering a more mundane or less favorable reality. There are other lists of she said and what she meant; or what the personal ad or general advertisement says, and this theme can be extended to politics, sanctimonious hypocrisy of all sorts, governmental-ese, and so forth. Partly I was amused. Partly I realized that this form of humore reinforced an idea that has been breaking through into my consciousness for 50 or more years: People lie! Some know they’re lying, but more often folks lie to themselves often so well that they don’t even know they’re lying!

I realized that when I was younger—and I still have this tendency—, I believed people! I believed they were disclosing as honestly as they could in movies in the 1940s and 1950s–sort of. Later, I felt but didn’t have the words to say, “Just tell her the truth!” I realized again that I only hardly and very gradually came to realize that folks lied. I don’t think I got the hang of it. (I’m slightly mystified at reading Kinsey Millhone—the detective character in the Sue Grafton mysteries—say that she is most adept and comfortable at lying.) Oh, I confess, I did it a few times, I remember the shame and fear of being found out. But most of the time I didn’t have to lie. My life was ordinary enough so that it didn’t seem necessary. (Well, maybe a little around some edges.)

I think I went into psychiatry to solve the cognitive dissonance that the world didn’t turn out to be the way people said. I dug a little deeper and realized that even though my mom said, no, she didn’t need that extra help, she didn’t mean it. She was hurt that I didn’t insist. Yikes!

(Don’t laugh at my naivete—I am a little socially dense—not fully Asperger’s syndrome, but just a little bit to the left of the midline on a spectrum from fully insensitive to interpersonal signals and social intelligence (e.g., classical autism) and those gifted people who make for successful diplomats and hostesses, sales-people and successful politicians, etc. Indeed, another part of my biography has been the theme of needing to compensate for this mystery of what is going on in the interpersonal field that isn’t readily obvious to me, though others pick it up intuitively. It’s also a factor in my being a late bloomer, though overall I’ve caught up and seem relatively successful socially and vocationally. But I still need to try a bit to keep this up and it’s easy for me to slip and make social gaffes.)

So my credulity and lack of natural interpersonal sensitivity evoked a compensatory curiosity about psychology, especially interpersonal psychology. Part of it was driven in my teens by the mystery of how to attract the opposite sex, how to manage myself so that they’d date me again, and so forth. Part of it also wondered about how other guys seem to be more successful in this endeavor. I found the cartoon humor of Jules Feiffer seemed to resonate with my predicament. These and other factors kept me curious about what humans are about. It didn’t occur to me except much later and then rather gradually that seemingly sincere people can lie in your face!

I’ve become intrigued, then, with self-deception, what Freud and his followers called “the defense mechanisms,” and what psychology continues to bring to the surface about how pervasive is the activity of the subconscious mind. From other sources, such as dream analysis, I’ve become convinced that the subconscious mind is at least ten times—maybe twenty or thirty times—as quick, subtle, and clever than the ordinary mind can do on purpose. (In this sense, I think Freud was significantly more right than I gather from his writings—though in other ways, more wrong—, and we need to modify the way we think about the subconscious mind!)

Back to the type of humor based on the “what he said-what he really meant” theme: I find them funny, and I’m also scared and annoyed by them—scared that I can’t play the game as well as others, that I don’t know how to manipulate, and that as a result I’ll be vulnerable to being manipulated by others. It’s not a big complex; I don’t think it causes trouble in my life; I know it’s there and what it’s about; but I plan to keep an eye on it. Meanwhile, I am amused a bit to think that this subtle wound, the shame of feeling taken in, has been one of the “causes” of my wrestling with the big questions of psychology and philosophy. It’s not the only factor, of course—I realize that life and my mind is fairly complex—but it rings true as one of the elements.

Can we evolve towards a culture in which not only is there less bullying—many articles about many programs sprouting up about this theme—, but also less hypocrisy, cheating, self-deception? I have hopes of making at best a dent, however tiny, of offering a voice that speaks up. I suspect that most folks aren’t aware of the pervasiveness of this pattern. It’s easily disguised, covered over by a sharper awareness of how one means well, what kindnesses one does. This seems to help obscure the very idea that one can be duplicitous or unintentionally cruel. The subject could be expanded on almost infinitely—we’re talking about sin and unkindness and the thousands of gradients and variations this takes. So, returning to the opening topic, it is enough to note that the ideal self-manager, the mature adult, will cultivate his or her level of humility about thoughts as well as deeds.

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