“You want to be a waiter?”
That from Jack Hardman, my high school art teacher at Burnaby Central. Jack was a wonderful artist, a good guy, and bitingly sarcastic back in the days when teachers didn’t worry much about the sensitivity of their young charges. I hated the fact he always said what he thought. With his students he was invariably honest.
“No,” I said in describing my little work of art. What we had been assigned to do was to paint a picture of ourselves as a future projection of what we wanted to be when (and if) we grew up. I had done a picture of myself in a white dinner jacket, standing on a tropical knoll overlooking the ocean. There is a manorial structure up behind me.
“I want to be rich and powerful.”
Therefore, I thought the dinner jacket and the manorial type place conveyed wealth and influence.
“Building looks like a restaurant to me,” said Jack. “And you look like a waiter. Maybe that’s your destiny. You’ll be a waiter serving people who are rich and powerful.”
I must have felt a bit demoralized because I still remember the incident as being insulting.
“Asshole,” I muttered after Jack was out of earshot. Time changes perspective, as does age. I no longer think that he was wrong in his appraisal. In fact, I wish I had paid more heed to his artistic acumen, but that’s neither here nor there. What he said was the truth and, like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, in the view of Jack, I couldn’t “handle the truth.”
So, what I want to talk about is honesty – scrupulous, unequivocal honesty. In other words something that I don’t believe exists, despite the fact we would like to think otherwise.
Because, even though I never became a waiter, I also didn’t become rich and powerful. I do have a white jacket, to which the photo attests, but that’s about it. What Jack was about, in his honesty, was that I wasn’t doing a realistic appraisal of my aspirations, and me but was going for the cheap and easy. Who doesn’t want to be rich and powerful? He wanted depth of thought. Huh? I was 17, for crissake.
Today I try to live a scrupulously honest life. I believe in honesty. In a relationship, for example, I believe in having no secrets between partners. I’ve done it the other way, and that doesn’t serve anybody well. I learned that the hard way. So, therefore if my life is an open book, life should flow smoothly. But, the point is, it’s not an open book.
The world is fraught with lies, as we know from politics and commercial advertising. But, so are we all.
There are things my wife knows about me, and there are things I know about her. Those are the things we choose to let the other know. But, there are other things, past and present, she doesn’t.
Our honesty comes in degrees like this:
– Things we’re comfortable to have anybody and everybody know.
– Things we share with those to whom we are close
– Things we share only with family
– Things we share (really neat things, sometimes) with those with whom we are intimate.
– Things we keep scrupulously to ourselves
– And finally, things that render us uncomfortable even about ourselves and about which we are in denial.
I believe we are existential beings and while self-lies can kill us, destroy relationships, lead us into despair and despondency; there remain some things we probably should not voice to anybody.
If you decide that you want to come clean with somebody about anything, you must always consider if it is going to lead to damage at the other end.
“Say, hon’, I’ve always wanted to have sex with your sister and she with me. Thought it was time I was honest about that. No secrets between us, eh?”
The repercussions of that scenario are too huge to be imagined – even if it is the ‘truth.’ By the way, it’s not the truth with me. Frankly, I can’t stand my wife’s sister. But, that’s OK. Neither can my wife.
And as a final caveat that all men must appreciate. If she asks you if a certain garment makes her look fat, lie through your teeth.