realitybites (13041)

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Journal of realitybites (13041)

Friday July 03, 09

Nobody hates phonies as much as Holden Caulfield—except me.

09:56 PM

Nobody hates phonies as much as Holden Caulfield—except me.

When I was ten years old, the worst insult one could garner from her peers was to be labeled a fake. (Phony was not a popular term at the time.)

Being branded with this undesirable status meant that your peers would no longer accept you. You would become a playground pariah, a loner without a friend, an untrustworthy human being destined to be forever exiled from cool groups or any groups at all, for that matter. Even the nerds wouldn't have you. The bottom line was that you could not be trusted. That is what the label meant. To be fake meant you were dishonest to us, them, and possibly even to yourself. But that last part—dishonest to oneself is where it gets a bit tricky. The phony may in fact be delusional e.g. schizophrenic. But those aren’t the fakers that I am concerned with.

But why was/is being regarded as a phony worse than being called fat or lesbian (two other classic middle school insults)? I think it was/is because we are players in a social system that necessitates authenticity. In our supposed meritocracy persons are recognized and rewarded for their abilities and achievements. In this system, honesty is of the utmost importance. It is necessary for each of us to present ourselves in a truthful way. Sure we all have to fib now and then; and we all don different hats for the many different roles we play in life. This is normal and acceptable. For example I may wear a conservative, knee-length skirt and jacket to attend my daughter’s middle school graduation ceremony. But that night I might put on a sexy black dress and go dancing. Two different people? A phony? Not at all. We all have many traits that make up our identity. They can be quite varied—even at odds with one another at times. We are still who we are inside. What we are presenting to the world is genuine—weirdness and all. We are being authentic.

Phonies are liars, manipulators, and cowards. They misrepresent themselves to the world for personal gain—often at the expense of others. They benefit from our system of honesty by banking on the fact that most people are authentic. This gives phonies a great advantage. Those who are trustworthy trust them; they appear credible to the credulous. In other words, being a phony pays well precisely because the rest of us are not phonies. It is a predator/prey relationship with the predator having a slight advantage… because most of us don’t have the time, energy, or resources to check out every fact and story for accuracy. So we assume that the person we have befriended, or hired, or fell in love with is who she/he says she/he is. Otherwise the whole system falls from its fragile foundation.

Authenticity is highly valued in our society. It is a virtue. It is a necessity. We need to trust the doctor who claims to be licensed; we need to believe our lover loves us for the reasons she states; we need to feel confident that our professor is qualified to teach; we must be assured that the product we purchase is safe. We look for consistencies and thrive on patterns. This makes us feel safe to navigate this big, sometimes scary world.

And yet, most of us take this delicate, unspoken system for granted. We don’t think about it much until we run into a phony. And then our trust is shaken and our judgment questioned. Being great manipulators, phonies are able to make us feel that we are imagining their deception, that our perception is wrong. They are masters at spin and covering their tracks. We feel betrayed; but they feel no remorse. It is all about them and their image. It is a dog eat dog world and they must be number one—even if it means cheating. It’s not how you play the game but rather who comes out on top. They crave attention and will do whatever is necessary to look good in the eyes of the prey.

OK, so we all agree that being authentic is a must for our society to run smoothly. But faking rubs me the wrong way—on a very personal, gut-twisting level. It is a major character flaw—a destructive weakness that is toxic to the rest of us.

Honestly, I would rather do lunch with a bigoted, right wing fundamentalist theocrat than a sweet-talking, despicable phony. At least the fundamentalist is being authentic. With the phony—who knows? That filet mignon they’re serving might just be horse meat.

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