I’ve begun listening to HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance and thinking about his description of the values of that culture and how they cope with poverty and other life factors. My biggest realization so far is: We all tell lies all the time and call it social pretense and civility.
When my alarm goes off every morning and I get up, I tell myself what a “nice” day it is. I hate mornings, especially if awakened by an alarm before 9 am. When I get to work, I say “good” morning to coworkers and people I meet in the halls. When I hear, “How are you?” and I answer “fine” or “pretty good,” I am shading the truth. I rarely feel “good or fine.” I am functioning every day because, really, what reasonable choice is there? I could probably answer “okay” or “content” and be largely honest. I find something nice to say to the people I meet, noticing new hair styles or remembering significant events like birthdays. These kinds of interactions are what I mean by social pretense.
Civility means that I don’t denigrate others for their appearance, attitudes or circumstances. I ignore the faults and irritations that don’t impact me directly. I honor free speech and practice tolerance. I don’t brag or flaunt my advantages and I don’t need to “win” or be “right” every time. I don’t feel smaller because someone else succeeds.
The less acknowledged reasons for pretense and lies are status and self-image … sometimes called social pressure/culture and, especially in my case, identity. I would describe myself as independent, self-sufficient, smart, funny and capable. By capable, I mean I can handle crisis and you can’t manipulate me either emotionally or intellectually. I am in control of my emotions, my reactions and my options. If I don’t know something, I know how to find out about it and I know a little about a lot of things.
If I am feeling vulnerable, I want to control who knows that. I prefer to appear optimistic rather than depressed. I would rather seem dismissive than perplexed. I would rather be alone and even lonely than appear needy. Asking for help isn’t easy beyond the superficial and others have called me guarded. My ongoing task is to integrate my intellect with my emotions and to value them both. I’m guessing that’s true for many people. Good luck to us all.