Saturday, June 15, 2013

Does Honesty Pay?

Tonight, we watched The Campaign. If you haven't seen it, and don't care to, here's a brief plot summary: two politicians from the same town are competing for Congress. One is being backed by billionaires, the other has never been competed against and is running for his fifth consecutive term. They both play dirty, they both lie. On the day one finally speaks honestly, he loses the election; the other secedes the position, and the honest guy wins by default.

Simple put, honesty paid off.

However, this was honesty on the back of lies and deceit. This got me thinking, if he had been honest from the beginning, would things have gone the same way for him? Would be have won if he had never lied during his campaign?

It then made me think, how would my life be different if I was completely honest with people all the time? It would mean spilling the beans on things I prefer not to talk about. It would also mean telling people what I think of them if they ask. That, I think, might cause more problems than not having personal secrets.

That is not to say that my opinions of people are bad. Rather, it means that people might behave differently around me, or no longer wish to be around me at all (either because I've insulted them, or they're not comfortable with what I think about them.) Whether it's flattery or insult, a lot of people don't like to know what people actually think about them.

I can understand that. On the days when I'm especially self-conscious, knowing what people think of me is one of the last things that appeals to me. It's not constitutive to a health relationship with someone with whom total honesty is not a fundamental aspect of being together. Friends don't have to know everything about each other, and especially not their opinions of each other. (Again, for either flattery or insult.)

For me, I even recognise that my opinions of people could easily be wrong. Having to tell people what I think of them - in the moment - isn't necessarily the truth as I see it. As the spectrum of human emotion can determine what we recognise as the truth, the latter might not always be the reality of the matter.

What's worse is that there could come massive generalisations. Thinking someone is annoying is often as a direct result of something that they do when they're around you. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's how they always are, and it is entirely constitutive on what you might consider annoying at any given period in time. (And I get this entirely from other people's perspectives, too. I'm fairly sure that a lot of what I do might be considered annoying. That would, rationally, explain difficulties with bullies in secondary school; what they consider annoying is enough for them, but for me - and for other people - it's not necessarily an annoying habit or action.)

With all of this in mind, then, how should be treat our lives? Social media has put an increasing stress on honesty, with some perverted idea of safety in being behind a screen. The reality is that this encourages people to express opinions - generally or about people - believing that they're free from consequences. This includes status updates and tweets that talk about disliking a particular type of person, when referring to someone one actually knows.

You've seen those ones, right? They're usually aimed at ex-es.

What about the bigotry that spouts from people's Facebook pages, in some foolish belief that they can never be found out about it if they keep their Facebook account private? The truth is, of course, that nothing on the Internet is private anymore.

Everything we post or upload or share is public. Everything. The lovely and insightful Rebecca Woodhead could tell you more about this, but the essence of it is this: everything can be accessed by The British Library. This means that when you think no one can find out that you've been spreading hate messages or talking about your sex life online, anyone can see it at some point, even if you don't want them to. Sure, it might not become public knowledge until after you're gone, but is that the mark you want to leave on the world?

And what about the simple process of page-printing? Let's face it, if you post something unflattering online, anyone can make sure it exists forever, no matter what you do with your account. All it takes is for one person to save it, and you can no longer remove it. This means every time you've said something negative about Muslims or women or homosexuals or people from a different town or country, you're allowing your words to be used against you. If means that every time you post a photo online that doesn't put you in the best light, you're allowing your image to be used against you. It's not just celebrities who are the objects of scandal; they're just the only ones we ever hear about.

You might think it unfair, but that's the truth. And while someone might excuse something you said as a sixteen year old, once you're legally an adult, you more or less lose permission to say anything stupid and offensive online without suffering the consequences.

Does honesty pay? I think it depends entirely on what you're being honest about. Opinions on people - people you know or people you don't - are probably best kept a secret. But those secrets you've been keeping on yourself? It's up to you how honest you want to be, so long as you're aware of the backlash that might occur. Remember, once something is seen once, it can be seen a million times.

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