Friday, March 25, 2011

Deception and Cosmic Irony

Every now and then, I trust someone I really shouldn't.

It happens to us all, I know.  I learned years ago to make my peace with it when, after beating myself up for being naive, a friend of mine commented, "Yeah... well, we all are sometimes.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the only way to become less so."

It's funny how, once you believe in someone, nothing will shake that belief.

Funny, and sad.  Sir Walter Scott wisely observed, "What tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

But I think that statement only looks at the problem from the weaver's (or deceiver's) perspective, and practice doesn't make perfect when it comes to deception.

Deceivers' webs are always pretty messy.  No self-respecting spider would be caught dead claiming credit for them.  And, as any fly can tell you, it's no fun finding yourself woven into a tangled web.

I've learned to watch out for certain red flags. At times, I make a mistake.  A big mistake.  Or two.  Or three.  Or twelve.

When I do, I have to go back and remind myself of the warning signs.

I'm sure I'll continue to overlook them, but here they are.  If anyone else out there is in a web of someone else's making, maybe this can help.

1) Watch out for people who tell you they're "honest."  They point it out about themselves, usually on a pretty regular basis.   They're quite proud of it.  And when necessary--and it always becomes necessary-- they will insist on it.

Here's what I've learned: honest people assume honesty is the norm.  They don't notice it or remark upon it, in themselves or in others, because they take it for granted.  It's the way they go through life.  End of story.

So if the person is constantly making a note of it, whether about themselves or about others, it's because honesty is something that stands out to them.  Something that's not the norm in their world.

It's like people who brag about what great friends they are.  Be forewarned: they're crappy friends.  They're also totally oblivious of other people's feelings, which is why they think they're such great friends in the first place.

2) Watch out for people who "play the line."  They're never overtly dishonest (which is why they lay claim to being "honest" all the time), but it always turns out that there's something not quite accurate or not quite right or not quite true about what they've told you. 

They leave stuff out.  Important stuff.  And if you confront them about their omissions, they'll say, "But I thought you knew."  No one likes to feel like they missed something or made a mistake.  They're playing on that, to make you think that it's your own fault if they haven't been completely forthright.  They meant to be, but since you didn't ask...

If you point out discrepancies between their words and the truth, there will always be a reason for the discrepancy, and that reason will generally involve your being "wrong" somehow.  Over time, you'll find that you're "wrong" quite a bit.

You're not wrong.  No one is wrong that often.

If they're on the line, it's because they know where the line is.  They know where the line is because they've been over it once or twice, and they've subsequently learned how to stay right on it.

As Benjamin Franklin said, "Half a truth is often a great lie."  Mark Twain commented, "A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies."  Both were variations on the Yiddish proverb, "A half truth is a whole lie."

3) Watch out for people who tend to tell you that you've "misunderstood."  There is no misunderstanding.  There never is.

See #2.  No one is mistaken all the time--or even all that often--about every little thing.

Think about it: if there's a misunderstanding between two reasonable, honest people, why hasn't it been cleared up?  How many well-intentioned, kind, wonderful people do you know who have some outstanding, unresolved conflict out there that they just can't seem to get straightened out, no matter what they say or do?

Yeah, exactly.

4)  Watch out for people who can't or won't look you in the eye.  Facebook and email and the internet make communication easier, but they also make it easier to deceive others.  If someone won't log off and face you instead of Facebook, they're up to no good.

If someone is telling me something I think may not be true, I stop whatever I'm doing and look right at them.  If the person can't look back, something's wrong. 

If you fail to heed the warning signs, as I have done, don't be too upset with yourself.  It doesn't diminish the cosmic value of trust, just because someone out there isn't trustworthy.

Personally, I want a world full of good-hearted, trusting people, and I'm pretty sure a lot of other people do too.  Trust wisely and carefully.  When you do, you'll find it's one of the best feelings around.

And if you make a mistake, remember: what goes around, comes around. 

In my case, the person who deceived me ended up getting sold out by his ("honest") friends.  If he hadn't insisted on the fact that I always misunderstood everyone and that he was always honest, I wouldn't have gone about trying to get things all cleared up.

Needless to say, it's clear now. 

When you're trapped in a tangled web, the only way to get out of it is to cut ties, even if the weaver rants and raves about the damage you're doing.

That's the irony of deception.  Even well-practiced weavers will weave themselves into a knot. 

In the end, honesty and integrity will just cut and run.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."