An inconvenient truth
Why is it that we are so afraid to say what we really think? We cannot be ourselves whilst we grapple with the knowledge that if we dare express our true sentiments, we shall be rebuked for being cynics; pessimists of the highest order. One is constantly reprimanded that feeling even the slightest injustice, frustration, or doubt will imprison us in a vicious cycle of angst.
Furthermore, we are informed, “you can’t let it take control of your life”, and, “a smile can make all the difference”. Can you really smile your way to happiness? Of course not. No matter how much you “fake it to make it”, if you’re genuinely unhappy, there is nothing an artificially constructed saccharine persona will do to help.
Society is so afraid of expressing discontentment that we have developed this elaborate method of diverting our real emotions into a manufactured ‘have a nice day’ culture. How can it be promoted as acceptable to simply sit back when one’s whole world is collapsing? Why else do and will so many people spend a lifetime in therapy, if there’s actually nothing wrong with well, anything?
For instance, if Rosa Parks had not refused to give up her seat on a bus one afternoon in 1955, where would we be now, where would the civil rights movement have been? As Camus declared: “What is a rebel? A man who says no”… And what if the suffragettes had not been exceptionally vocal in their tireless campaign for the women’s vote? What if Gandhi or Nelson Mandela had not engaged in civil disobedience at a time when to remain silent was undoubtedly the safer option? We are warned from an early age that we should never talk politics, religion, sex or money; it is dangerous territory from which no one emerges unscathed.
The problem, then, is what exactly is acceptable? What else is there to talk about?
There is evidently something amiss when today, even speaking one’s mind becomes akin to public disorder. It may be the twenty-first century, but people still refuse to engage with simple and often uncompromising truths. Much has been made of this being a democratic culture; a forum of free-flowing speech, when in reality, every action, every thought and every utterance is subject to intense censorship. The heart of the matter is if we want to survive, we have to be willing to play moral trump cards. Sacrifice your integrity and gain some kind of political leverage. Dispatch with kindness and authenticity and instead practice to deceive and deny in order to win big in the career or social stakes. But most of all obliterate any trace of individuality.
We have all become tranquilised clones whose only utterances are “fine”, “very well”, and what I like to call ‘rotation topics’. Firstly, my favourite, that great dependable: the weather. This is especially useful if there has generally been a startling change in weather within the last two weeks: last week, brilliant sunshine, warm temperatures, and ‘t-shirt weather’. Next thing you know, and it’s all sub-zero temperatures, icy-cold Siberia, gale force winds et al. Secondly: current plans. This can include such topics as whether the other person is going on holiday, and how their job/inertia is going. Thirdly, random chit-chat/flattery: “oh, what a nice bag, where did you get it?”, “have you had a haircut?” I readily acknowledge that these phrases are necessary conversation-openers, especially when you barely know or rarely see the other people. However, when they form the substance of discussion amongst intimate friends and family, this surely reveals the extent of dysfunctional communication.
Somehow, it seems that we have barely moved beyond the banter of our school days. People never say anything interesting, merely offering anecdotes about their drunken behaviour from the past week, and which club they stumbled out of this time, whilst being supported by other drunken compadres. Politically astute (no Brownites please), passionate, artistic, hell, articulate (!) folk are now only the stuff of legend. Does no one actually care about the meaning of life anymore? Or, are they so busy drinking away the horrors of daily existence that they can no longer register the sensation of reality?
Naturally, there is always the other side. That ugly side of humanity, where people are completely uninhibited and make it their mission to be unbelievably malicious. For no apparent reason, their words and actions are submerged in venom; they exist solely to threaten society with their evil resources. In such cases, it is perhaps better that they say nothing at all or are removed by the happy police. But seriously, is all hope lost for intellectual, stimulating dialogues of the mind and soul? Must we be compelled to lives of small-talk and insincerities?
We need to stop pretending and start being honest; to discover those voices which have been prevented from emerging since the hour of our births. Perhaps, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “To be natural is such a difficult pose to keep up”. Our fear, our crippling fear, is that of unpopularity and disapproval.
The terrible, unspeakable fear that honesty will come at a price: the loss of friends, the loss of a job, and the loss of reputation. Until we are bold enough to really search inside, defy the status quo and discard the façades, nothing will change in this increasingly hostile world.