Brutal Honesty in the Age of Being Real

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of being real, it was the age of delusional thinking, it was the epoch of honesty, it was the epoch of lies, it was the season of transparency, it was the season of illusions, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going to achieve, what we had already achieved, what we would never achieve – in short, it was a period of time that needed to exist to rectify a period that may never have existed to the superlative degree of comparison that some of its noisiest authorities defined for the era.

It was the age of being real. It was the age of reality TV. Did reality TV bring about the advent of being real, or was reality TV a byproduct of it, in the manner a body puts out byproducts it can’t use? Did art imitate life or reflect it? Or, was reality TV a refraction of a very small sampling of the culture that the shows’ producers projected out into the society as a measure of realness that wasn’t ‘real’ to the superlative degree they portrayed?

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

How many times in one episode, of one reality show, did one participant say, “Hey, I’m just being real with ya” to assuage the guilt they might otherwise have associated with insulting another person? How many times did one of these shows’ participants gain a certain degree of realness on the back of the individual they were insulting? How many times was being real used as a confrontational device to belittle those people that were less real, until the real participant managed to gain some sort of superior definition?

One could be real without any substantive reflection in the era of being real. Being real, in such instances, was nothing more than a cudgel used to diminish another’s values. It was used as a weapon to castigate its victims into being more real, or more like the speaker, until the viewer of this exchange was left reflecting upon the disparity involved in their thinking. At that point, the viewer was supposed to accept that thought as real thinking, if they ever hoped to gain greater stature in the real-o-sphere. Most of us now reflect back on the being real era, and see it as an intellectually dishonest era, designed to promote the drama of the interactions, and the proselytizing of the speakers.

Being real was supposed to, at the very least, have a conjugal relationship with brutal honesty, and some of us used some nugget of that message to put more brutal honesty in our personal presentations, regardless if anyone thought we were more real or not. Those of us that attempted to present ourselves in a manner that could be called brutal honesty, in regards to how we thought we should be perceived, encountered a number of surprising reactions.

The most surprising reaction we received was no reaction. Our audience took it in stride, because they thought they were just as honest with themselves as we were. They lived with the idea that they were so honest that most people couldn’t handle their special brand of honesty. It didn’t dawn on them, however, that their version of brutal honesty was devoted to assessing others. Very few have temerity to point this idea out to these people, or that their particular brand of being real incorporated many of the same elements used by the dictionary to define the word delusional. Those of us that have attempted to assist others to view themselves in an objective light, to have them examine themselves in the era of being real, have encountered some confrontational push back.

Those that have never made a concerted effort to be honest about themselves, might expect that one being harshly critical of one’s self to be somewhat influential. The expectation I had was that others might “raise their game” in this regard, to be as honest as I was about myself. They didn’t, because, again, these Delusional People thought that they already were, and they thought they had always been as honest as I was.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to displaying brutal honesty about one’s self, in the age of being real, was that our listeners began to think less of us. One would think that a person that provides brutal truths about their life would be embraced, as being “So engaged in brutal honesty that it’s refreshing.” One would think with such brutal honesty coming their way, the listener couldn’t help but be more honest in return. No such luck. What often happens is that they join a person in their refreshing, honest assessments about themselves, but these people don’t engage the same objectivity in regards to them.

“How do you think you’d do in jail?” A Delusional Person asks Frank.

“Not well,” Frank replies with refreshing, brutal honesty.

The Delusional Person may laugh at this point, because being this honest can be humorous when the recipient is allowed to bathe in the weaknesses of its purveyor. The Delusional Person will often agree with Frank’s frank assessment of himself, but they won’t assess themselves by the same measure.

“How do you think you would do?” Frank returns.

“I think I’d do all right,” The Delusional Person replies.

Even in the age of being real, most people fell prey to projecting themselves into scenarios with images from their ideal state, still dancing in their head. This particular Delusional Person was once a championship-level wrestler that endured exhaustive workouts, and exercised levels of self-discipline, that most non-athletes will never know. This resulted in The Delusional Person being a finely crafted specimen that at one time may, indeed, have been capable of handling the hand-to-hand combat situations that are reported to occur within the confines of a cell block. The Delusional Person remembers those days with fondness.  He remembers those days as if they were yesterday, for the rest of their lives. Most Delusional People haven’t lifted a weight more than a hundred times in the last fifteen years, yet they still picture themselves in that peak physical form when putting themselves in scenarios. A more brutal and honest assessment, for this particular Delusional Person, would have been: “I don’t know, but I suspect that all of the years I’ve spent sitting behind a computer, and avoiding physical workouts, would be exposed early on.”

We all picture ourselves in peak physical condition when we listen to others speak about how they have let themselves go. We laugh when others joke about those that have gained weight, while forgetting that just last week we were just forced to purchase a thirty-six inch waist on a pair of pants for the first time. We’ll do this when we speak about the people we grew up with that “now look so old”, even though we’re now using hair-dye, wrinkle cream, and supplements to fight the aging process. We aren’t lying when we do this either, we’re projecting that idyllic image of ourselves into these scenarios that used to be able to lay out an entire prison yard when we were called upon to do so … in the movies.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to presenting one’s self in a brutally honest manner to a group of listeners is that even the most polite listeners begin to feel free to be brutally honest with the brutally honest:

“Are you sure that you’re capable of that?” a polite, and sweet, listener asked after I informed her that I threw my hat in the ring a promotion that had everyone abuzz. The surprising aspect of this question was not that she asked it, for it could be said that she was looking out for me in her own way, but that she had never asked such a question of any of our other co-workers. With them, she issued what could be called a Hallmark card-style responses to their desire to advance within the company. “Good luck!” she would say to them, or “I know you can do it.”

She asked me to reconsider whether or not I was qualified. Why? Was she jealous? After processing this, with the acknowledgement of her overwhelming polite and kind attributes, I realized that her concerns were simple reactions to all of the brutal honesty presentations I had provided her over the years. She didn’t want me to get hurt by the realities of my limits, limits that I had expressed in the course of being honest with my vulnerabilities, and she was just reacting to what she had been told by me.

As a result of such actions, people like my sweet, polite friend can inadvertently assist the person striving for brutal honesty into a depressing state of their reality. The honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’re doing this to themselves, and that they’re becoming too honest. Their friends aren’t helping, but their friends are just listening and forming opinions based on what they’ve heard the speaker say, and they’re regurgitating the speaker’s harsh and brutal opinions of their capabilities back on them. The speaker’s friends are, in fact, greasing the skids to a form of depression. An honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’ve become so realistic in their assessments that they’ve become brutally realistic.

They may start avoiding attempts to advance themselves, because they’ve become so realistic that they’re now asking themselves so many questions that they’re afraid to try and advance. As a result of such thorough examination, they’ve also become so realistic that they don’t think it’s realistic for any honest assessor to succeed. These could be called minor setbacks in the grand scheme of becoming more honest with one’s self, until the person engaging in brutal honesty begins to see that all of The Delusional People around them –some with half of their talent– begin to succeed beyond them. These Delusional People may even know that they’re lying to themselves, on some level, but they’re harmless little, white lies that everyone tells themselves in the quest for advancement, and if you can get all of them to add up just right, they may become a reality that no one can deny.

When Molly was promoted to this position that created the buzz, the confusion it created was almost painful. It wasn’t Armageddon, and no one was harmed by the company’s decision, but the aftermath of this tragedy left a proverbial wasteland that could be confused with some of the worst, real historic tragedies. The people that had devoted a large portion of their lives to this company felt that it could only be outweighed by familial or personal tragedies. The world moves on after a political disaster, and religious hypocrisies can be overcome through personal devotion, but a seismic disaster on par with a person of Molly’s character, and work ethic, landing a top gig in their company can leave reverberations that are felt throughout a person’s life. The company is where most people live most often. It’s a better indicator of how they’re living, as it’s the place where most people devote most of their resources. When things go wrong in the workplace, in other words, those things can reverberate throughout the rest of that person’s life. 

“Part of an interview involves salesmanship,” those in the know would tell the employees gathered in a team meeting, and that assessment was to remain within those closed doors, as off the record comments. This assessment was a “wink and a nod” attempt to assuage the confusion that was building around what many considered an absolute travesty. And many thought the truth would find a way to rear her beautiful head and rectify the situation. 

Those that have been in similar situations learn the term “new reality”. If those in the know comment on such a situation, they will say something along the lines of “You should be happy for Molly”. This leaves the suggestion that most of the confused, are confused about her promotion as a result of personal animus.

“That’s all well and good,” was the general reaction to these off the record comments, “But if Molly has any moral fiber, or conscience, she won’t be able to sleep at night.” No one cares. Molly has scoreboard.

Amid the personal and professional confusion, one honest assessor, from the out of the loop sector, stepped forth and professed the harsh reality of the situation: “Molly simply fed into the leadership mystique of her superiors better than others.”

When others concerned themselves with learning the inner machinations of the company’s system in a proficient manner that would impress their superiors, Molly was purchasing gift baskets for boss day. When others were out volunteering for special projects to pad their resumé, and working untold amounts of overtime to put a smile on their bosses’ faces, Molly was at the bosses’ lunch tables laughing at their jokes. And when all of the applicants were drilling the interviewer with the bullet points of their resumé, Molly was feeding into whatever mystique they wanted to gain in that particular setting. This was Molly’s primary skill set.

It was a bow atop the corporate basket of lies given to bosses, on boss day, in the age of being real. In the age of being real, employees began to demand more recognition for their accomplishments, and management responded, but in the end the employees realized that it was all part of a scripted, choreographed, and edited production designed to pacify their audience by mentioning their name in the credits that rolled out at the end of the day. When crunch time came, however, it was the Delusional People that had learned how to feed the mystique of those in the know that left everyone else feeling malnourished.

As the nuns told us in grade school, “Those that live in a dishonest manner will eventually get theirs” and that “Truth has a way of prevailing”, and Molly was eventually discovered to be “not a good fit” for the position, but she was promoted up and out of the position, and out of the department, and the person that replaced her was yet another mystique feeder.

The problem –those naïve enough to believe in the age of being real– discovered was not with Molly, but that Molly was emblematic of the problems inherent in a system that the honest people once believed would find a way to provide rewards to those honest, hard working people that put their nose to the grindstone. The problem that seemed so complex to those of us that tried to wrestle with it, turned out to be so simple. The problem was that those that controlled the spigots of reward for the hard working women and men in company were humans themselves, and humans are inherently susceptible to flattery.

The nuns also provided their grade school students the proviso that if you’re living the honest life with the expectation of eventually receiving concretized recognition for it, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. We knew that when they said this, they were preaching gospel. Even if we didn’t know the depth of their statement, at the time, some part of us knew that the rewards of living the honest life involved intangible, internal, and spiritual rewards. When the Delusional People began to beat us to the more tangible goals, however, most of the honest assessors in the group would be forced to admit that it was difficult not to be affected by it, if they were being real with you.


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