Picture this…Grade five, recess time and a ball buster boy in my class (Martin) told me that years ago someone had hung themselves in the basement of my house. He offered up horrific details as I stood silent, my insides churning and a cold sweat running over me while the other kids laughed and played all around us. He told the lie with such vigorous detail that it had to have been true…until my best friend said that it was a scene from a movie her older sister had watched that week.
If I hadn’t shared the account with my friend, I would have accepted, as fact, Martin’s confident declarations and he would have successfully achieved what he had set out to do, which was to scare the begeebeez out of me. My overactive imagination would have done the rest.
Point being that even after finding out it was pure fiction, I still, when possible, avoided the basement after dark. The fear having partly won over my reasonable mind thus enabling this extremely silly behaviour on my part.
Fear has led to extreme reactions and behaviours in the real world, outside the schoolyard perimeter, as any active reader or spectator of global news can attest. What makes these actions even sadder is their senselessness, for being based on pure lies. Fake news accounts, manipulated statistics, gibberish dressed up as scholarly articles and empty minds professing a refined intellect have contributed to mass misinformation, hysteria and violence. Perhaps examples are popping up in your mind as you read this.
And as we sit, horrified looking on at indescribable televised scenes of such examples, one begins to wonder why these made up accounts are being so wholeheartedly embraced by people that are no longer in grade five.
Where are the questions (especially the difficult and uncomfortable ones) and the people challenging an issue? Where is the pre-reading in order to learn more about (or at least get a smattering of) the subject at hand? And where did listening carefully, and to multiple voices, go?
Add to this the extremely delicate, emotionally rife topics being dealt with today and what could have been a thorough and eye opening, inclusive discussion leading to improvements or solutions, becomes an absolutely useless emotionally charged diatribe that divides families, neighbors and nations.
At the time that Martin messed with me, fear was also still pretty time sensitive/age appropriate: the dark, the bogey man, getting lost at the mall, the school bully, losing your parents, failing a test. And as you aged some fears, thankfully, fell off the radar as new ones crept in: illness, not finding a partner, death.
Today, the above mentioned fears have been joined by a bevy of newcomers with a lifetime of longevity (global warming, terrorism, mass displacement) and then some.
More than ever, now is not the time to be gullible. I think we need to accept that rarely do answers and truths (like lies) fit neatly into compartments. Expecting a quick fix because today the name of the game is FAST and then FASTER is unreasonable and unachievable. Our absorption and consideration of information must be carefully chewed and not gulped down. And the old adage of, think before you speak, should be dusted off and re-proposed.
To the point, there are a variety of great reads, if you are interested, on this topic coming at it from various angles:
Robert Trivers elegantly explains the phenomenon of telling lies in his book, Deceit and Self-Deception “fooling yourself the better to fool others”.
The Guardian has an eclectic suggested book list, as well, which you can view by following the link below