For many years, as I mulled over what was wrong with our country, I have always tended to buy into the standard themes. These are the theories that characterize Americans as stupid, lazy, and apathetic. If those themes were true, how then does the rest of the world measure up? Do they have superior intelligence and robot like work ethics? Do they participate in their government to some degree beyond that which we are inclined to? No, clearly they don't. In fact, many European countries have jobs that offer months, not weeks, of vacation time. I can't imagine European people being any smarter or more educated than our people- although I have tried to find a credible and comparative resource to prove my suspicions. Very generally speaking, I don't think that other countries take a more active role in their government nor are they less apathetic about it than Americans. All in all, I think that the standard judgements that we use to describe Americans must be inaccurate or simply wrong.
If we can't blame our national malaise on stupid, lazy, and apathetic Americans- what then is the problem? Maybe there is something else that is the root cause. Perhaps there is some practice that we all engage in daily because we have found it to be the most expedient choice as we go about our daily lives.
Maybe we simply engage in dishonest conduct. Perhaps we are emotionally dishonest with ourselves, dishonest in a lot of our dealings, at our work, and with our families. Does dishonesty create emotional distress in us? That's the case I am making here. We don't like dishonesty but we have been taught that it is some necessary evil. So I thought I'd touch on three giant areas of dishonesty. The workplace, relationships, and our world in general.
I don't care whether you work on a car lot, as a lawyer overcharging people, as a banker sitting on your ass all day charging folks ridiculous interest rates, or a doctor over prescribing tests not because they are necessary- but because you are trying to bolster your defense for a potential malpractice suit. We live in a very dishonest world where dishonest conduct is seen as good- so long as we can justify engaging in it and it provides a measurable positive result for the entity we work for and in turn, ourselves. I like to think of it as capitalism on steroids- with only outrageous and provable misconduct as a boundary.
I want you to stop and think. How many dishonest activities does your employer ask you to engage in?
I have a good friend who is an insurance adjuster. His sole purpose in life is to be the front man for the fine print. That dishonest and undisclosed fine print that comes to light only after you file a damage claim with an insurance company. The adjuster's key role is to reduce the company's liabilities by whatever means is marginally legal. Translated that means- you are going to get the worst settlement conceivable. Adjusters don't go to any length to tell you that their findings are arbitrary and appeal able- in fact they go to great lengths to make you believe that their offer is exactly the opposite- non negotiable.
Now I could go on and on about workplace dishonesty- but I'd be wasting time. Nobody knows workplace dishonesty better than than the people engaging in it. So let's move on to something else. Let's touch on emotional dishonesty.
Nowhere in my life have I personally been more dishonest about my feelings- than when it comes to relationships. Intimate relationships are extremely fertile ground for dishonest feelings or non disclosed feelings, particularly in matters revolving around sex. In fact very often, I like to think of intimate relationships as the "Miracle Gro" for dishonesty. My relationships, intimate and otherwise, are very often predicated on my willingness not to disclose how I am actually feeling. Millions upon millions of people do this. In fact, we probably all do this. People might tell the truth about how they are feeling if they thought some solution was possible. However, with no solution on the horizon, people see no reason to discuss their feelings when the only likely outcome is more grief or that the problem actually gets worse. So non disclosure becomes a very common form of dishonesty.
We are bombarded by dishonesty everywhere. From the non stop marketing by corporate America selling us cars and insurance, to diet pills and larger penis pills, or 4 hour erections. You ever wonder how many people actually experience a four hour erection? Have you? Marketing and advertising is all predicated on dishonesty.
The last bastion of dishonesty I want to touch on is our country and government. Nobody engages in more lies and deception than the government of the United States. To understand this, all you have to do is read. The more you read and educate yourself, the worse it gets. I have written nearly 1800 blogs detailing it quite nicely. Let's just say if you are shopping for role models for honest behavior- don't stop at the government store.
So I've extended my premise to you that dishonesty in virtually all facets of our lives- greatly contributes to our national depression.
How could any person short of a sociopath, engage in the levels of dishonest behavior that this country does without getting frustrated, cynical, and angry?
People aren't stupid, lazy, or apathetic. In fact, they are simply responding to the world as they see it. If they are not required to think- they won't. If they are not required to work- they won't. If they see no reason to vote because one vote will not make a difference- they won't. That doesn't mean that they can't do those things- but that they have simply chosen not to.
That is an opportunity cost. Given no superior choice, people have no reason to believe that anything they engage in will make any kind of positive difference. So they don't.
Our national depression has been brought about by decades of dishonest behavior. Dishonest behavior is not diminished simply because we refuse to acknowledge it. It does not fail to exist merely because we say so. Dishonest behavior is not something we can tolerate or engage in and then go home at night and feel good about ourselves. I know I can't. In fact, I won't take a job where I am exploiting others or engaging in dishonest practices. I want to sleep well and that doesn't include 4 or 5 drinks to erase whatever recurring thoughts I am having brought about by any given day's events.
Years ago, I worked for ITT Financial Services in Las Vegas. Our lowest interest rate on a small consumer loan was 39% per year. We were prohibited by policy from disclosing that truth. When potential customers called and asked what the interest rate on a loan was we were instructed to say, "It depends on the size and the length of the loan." This dishonest behavior was so rigidly enforced that it was a termination offense to violate that policy. So one day, a caller called and asked about our interest rates and I told him the truth. I guess I had a case of the "f**k its." The branch manager heard me tell the guy 39% and he very nearly had a stroke. The tongue lashing I received in front of my co-workers was embarrassing. Secretly, I wanted to kick his ass.
We as a country, are simply saturated with dishonest, misleading, and disingenuous behavior at all levels and we know it. We also know it's wrong. We also know that we can't possibly hope to control or change the world as it bombards us with all that dishonesty. The good news is- we don't have to.
Remember in the beginning of this piece when I quoted Gandhi? That part about truth and love always winning out over tyrants and despair?
I have seen people do all kinds of selfless acts. I have seen people drown trying to save a family pet or even strangers from drowning. That is love. People want to be good, they just don't know where to begin. I believe that and I also believe that people are not always fully conscious of what ails them.
Our soldiers don't feel good about themselves either. They question the morality or the honesty of killing people and watching their own get maimed and killed. Most of us have been taught from day one that it is ok to defend ourselves and that it's not ok to attack others. There is an internal conflict in all of us when we begin to question the integrity of trying to distinguish whether or not we are attackers or defenders. And where there is no bright line, there is confusion and depression.
I am not surprised by rising suicide rates among our returning soldiers. I am pissed off that our government so cavalierly and dishonestly uses our soldiers like cattle and then wonders why they can't cope with life when they get back home. I think I get angry because these are kids. Kids who were taught the difference between right and wrong. Kids who find out in some nasty way that their potential sacrifices were for naught. There are no victories, no ticker tape parades, no public accolades. Instead they are asked to come home and act like nothing happened. That dishonest behavior once again.
I can't change any of that. But...
I can accept the world at it is. I accept all of the dishonesty that the world rains down on me but I refuse to engage in it. I am also aware that all of that dishonesty contributes to my frustration and depression. I am fully aware of the negative effects of all of that and I am going to make a conscious decision not to participate, contribute, or support it. I am going to minimize the negative effects of dishonesty.
If we engage in esteemable acts then perhaps by extension, we will all gain higher levels of self esteem. When we feel good about our conduct and ourselves- then there is no need for us to change the way we feel when we arrive home at night. We have not deluded, cheated, mis represented, or lied to anyone including ourselves. We may actually feel good about ourselves. When we feel good, there's no reason to change the way we feel. No reason to drink or drug ourselves to sleep, no reason to commit suicide.
When this nation once again begins to act responsibly and honestly, like we once did, then I think that our national depression will lift. Opportunity and hope will return. I am not going to try to forecast which way it will turn or whether I will live to see it or not, but that's just the optimist in me.
Until then, we all get to pick what kind of people we are going to be. Choose wisely.
*This evening while reading about Seymour Hersh, I stumbled into this gem. Hersh believes everything is a lie right now. Pretty interesting observation. However, I disagree that Bin Laden wasn't killed when and where our government stated. Too much at stake- too many witnesses on both sides.