Is Honesty Killing Our Online Communication?

Folks, at what point did we all decide it’s okay to say everything we’re thinking? If a petition was carried door-to-door for signatures, I must not have heard the knock.

The secret art of manners

I don’t know whether to share my thoughts about this or simply provide a link to Emily Post’s book Etiquette: 19th Edition on Amazon. (First I’d have to read it myself, though.)  Edited by Lizzie Post, Emily’s great-great-granddaughter, it’s astonishingly never been out of print since the first edition was published in 1922, and it’s not exactly cheap — meaning, perhaps, that chivalry didn’t die when Cary Grant retired from films in 1966, manners survived the free love, civil rights, and women’s movements, and ultimately, civil discourse has not been entirely bludgeoned to death by social media, though there are plenty of days when I swear I’m an eyewitness to virtual premeditated murder. The hardcover price for Etiquette is $26.91 and the Kindle edition is $20, well above the norm for most eBooks these days. Why so pricey? Simple. Did your parents/teachers/neighbors fill you in on how polite discourse is done? The fine art of honesty tempered with diplomacy and tact? Neither did mine. The secret art of manners is as elusive to me as the Holy Grail—both as chalice at the Last Supper and the womb of Mary Magdalene. I’m rude, but well-read.

New social skills

Consequently, I grew up a blunt but otherwise quiet person given to intemperate outbursts, though totally without malice. Always the late bloomer, I started acquiring a new social skill set in my fifties. (I am now 61—impressive, eh?) I see it as similar to having two sets of financial records: one to show the IRS and the other that chronicles the unvarnished truth of my shameful double life. I cling to both sets of social skills and do not value one over the other. Already I’m trying to squirm out of my social accountability like the mannerless slime that I am. Can I be reformed? Could I, someday, throw out the truth porn and live by hypocrisy alone?

I don’t know—but I think it’s really important that I try.

Honesty is not all it’s cracked up to be

As a matter of fact, I’ve had plenty of moments when I thought of it as a sign of immaturity. The unvarnished version, anyway. Undiluted honesty is nothing more than opinion. Anybody with a brain, a functional larynx or ability to type can voice it. But that is only half of the transaction. The other half is occupied by the receiver, and that is what I strive to focus on most when I formulate a statement or response. But not as the other—as an extension of myself.

My idea of utopia

Not in a narcissistic way, mind you, more along the lines of the Golden Rule. How would I like to be communicated with? When I study the field of brilliant Q&A, for example, my favorite sessions are those in which the participants dig deeper into humility, metaphor, and humor to couch their thoughts. Arguments such as those in a youtube panel discussion among the most thrilling thinkers of the Jewish community and Christopher Hitchens exploring the question: “Is there an afterlife?” leave me breathless with the possibilities of public discourse. An atheist and three prominent American Jewish thinkers engaging a deep issue without tearing each other down, not even close. Mutual respect, a developed sense of humor, and brilliant insights carried the discussion, and it was obvious that it was all in a day’s work for them. That was the level where they all thrived. It was my idea of Utopia.

It all starts with self-doubt

I believe we err most often when we are more concerned about being right and using it like a sledgehammer to crush the listener. That is nothing more than bullying. And if you’re thinking that I’ve mistaken disagreement for bullying, I respectfully beg to differ.

If you think I’m actually describing arrogance when I use the label bullying, try to think of it this way—how would you hear it if you were on the receiving end?

I’ll close with one of my favorite adages:

“Beyond right and wrong there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”  —Rumi, 13th c. Persian poet

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