Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Friday, March 28, 2014

In defense of fakery

My dear Hannah,

I don't know exactly who's been saying it, but this week a friend of mine confided that people at work have been complaining about me.  There are plenty of reasons to complain about me, of course: on the one hand you might complain I'm not good enough to be a Christian, and on the other you might complain that I'm too straight-laced to be a heathen. Depending on the time of the day, both of them may be right.  If we take both of these perspectives seriously, I may be a perfectly annoying person.  I'm also certain there are other reasons to complain.

Perhaps most interesting to me was that these complaints, which are real, and not some speculative or personal guess that I ventured like the above, had absolutely everything to do with my being too nice.  I have no idea how to account for this: I'm constantly worried I've been too harsh, too demanding, too judgmental.  It turns out the rest of the world -- or, at least, a good chunk of it -- thinks I'm too soft for company.  Perhaps of the two sides this is the better.

Now I'm forced into speculation.  I can't talk to these people; I don't even know who they are, really, and if I did, it's unlikely this kind of thing would ever be told to my face.  But I can imagine that if someone I worked with was too nice for me, that I would wonder, first of all, whether their niceness was actually fakeness, and second, if I could determine whether it real, I would wonder whether I was behaving as I should.  And I think this forms the basis of any hatred for people who are too nice.  We wonder whether they're two-faced, and if we have any reason to believe they aren't, we begin to worry that perhaps we might be too rude.  There's good ground to be uncomfortable in either situation: with the former, we might get stabbed in the back, and with the latter, we might get stabbed for a good reason. 

There's really only one danger in dealing with an insincere person, and that's that you might expect a good thing one minute, and receive something bad the next.  By insincere, then, what reasonable people really mean is two-faced, or someone who pretends to like you, but is actually planning to wreck you.  I think nearly all of us have been two-faced at one time or another.  It's simply easier to skirt the wrath of our enemies, and destroy them when they aren't expecting it, without all the animosity in between -- think Brutus and Caesar.  It might be civilized to declare war before attacking a nation, but you run much higher chances of winning when your declaration of war is an unexpected attack.  I wouldn't say that both methods are equally moral, but one of them is certainly more functional; and if there's an incentive to do something bad, we're almost certain (at the very least) to have considered doing it.

But there's also an unreasonable way to approach kindness, and that's the belief that a person is fake because he doesn't do what he feels.   Nothing could be farther from the truth.  A person who does what he ought to do instead of doing what he feels like doing is a good person.  It's the person who always does what he feels like doing who's the menace.  Consider your thoughts throughout the day, and how you would feel about yourself if those thoughts became public information.  Now imagine if everyone else had those same feelings, and they suddenly began acting upon them, and ask yourself whether this is something you'd rather have suppressed. 

I've heard many, many people say that their rudeness is a sign of their honesty -- if this was the case, and these people were genuinely un-filteredly honest, I guarantee most of them would have broken noses.  Women especially have little to gain from honesty: it's fakery that keeps unpleasant women (who are generally weaker than men) from getting beaten for being obnoxious -- but manners teach us that we have to be tactful, have to be kind, have to be chivalrous; that there are ways to ask for things other than demanding them, and that we can still be good even if we don't get what we want; that we should wait in lines instead of shoving weaker people aside; that instead of frowning and being a nuisance, we should smile, and thank strangers, and acknowledge people we know when we pass them by.  Every one of these behaviors, aside from being inherently pleasing, also has an immense utility.  Our safety, comfort, order, cleanliness, and brotherhood depend upon them.  The people who act nicely despite themselves aren't the enemies of civilization.  It's the people who do what they feel who ruin everything.  I wonder why it is that these "honest" people aren't pissing themselves in public and humping everyone they're attracted to.  Perhaps it's because they can't live up to the standard they force upon everyone else.  In other words they're lying about lying.

If you turn out like your father and end up being a "nice" person, always remember this: whatever people say, you are what you feel, but you're more what you do.  There are a hundred desires and possibilities all colliding within you at every moment, and what makes you you is which of them you love the most.  Think about it: you're here because you've chosen it at the expense of everything else.  We might even say at the moment that you love this more than anything else.  And our loves define us, all the loves that paint our story and weave our actions into what may be known as our character.  Not our loves that we don't pursue, but the ones we do.  The Apostle James says that a perfect man bridles his tongue.  He doesn't say he's perfect because he never has anything to bridle: he's perfect because he had something either ugly or unreasonable to say, and he decided not to say it. 

In summary, having good manners is a replacement for our missing charitable sentiments.  Civilization is partially natural, when we feel like doing something right, and artificial when we don't -- it is touchable either way, like the stones from earth and the plaster from a factory that together make up a building.  What we have to worry about isn't so much that civilization might be imaginary.  We should worry when men stop wanting to pretend it.

But perhaps I've gone about this entirely the wrong way, and there is some merit in the opposition's view.  Maybe they're reflecting the Christian sentiment that something really is wrong with the human race, and that no amount of artifice can cover our transgressions.  Maybe they're unknowingly burning for the New Man and the New Jerusalem, and waiting for the day when feeling and goodness are one and the same -- if indeed this unification really is Man's destiny.

Could be.

Or maybe they're just jerks.

With love, always,
-J

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