December 30, 2009
Emotions, Ethics and Virtues could sum up this week, even perhaps even this whole year. First I read Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman then The Ethical Slut and finally, Delete: the Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.
Paul Ekman is an expert on lying. He is the inspiration for the show Lie To Me on Fox. He is a psychologist whose focus has been on body language and facial expressions. The study of lying is a natural extension of this since our bodies usually betray us. No matter how convincing our words are, there is always some trace of discomfort in our demeanor. Ekman says you need 3 things to lie. 1) To be able to strategically plan your moves ahead of time. 2) To be able to read the needs of other people and put yourself in their shoes and 3) to manage your emotions like a grown up person. While lying is NOT ethical, it is a sign of intelligence. Social manipulation reflects success.
I have never been a good liar. Why? Well, I think I have always had an intuitive sense of other people’s feelings. I read body language before I understood it. Because I didn’t understand it, I often disregarded it though. I felt like I shouldn’t confront people if I had no solid evidence of their deception. I waned to believe them. Thinking strategically didn’t seem to come naturally to me. Learning how to play chess and effectively analyze social situations took practice.
Keeping my emotions in check is probably the most difficult part of the equation for me.I tend to be easily overwhelmed and often leak my feelings even when I am trying to keep it together. When I suppress my sadness and hide my pain, it tends to leave me feeling toxic. I don’t often try to hide my feelings because I feel better if I express them when I feel them. It makes it easier to move onward and onto the next feeling. Lying leaves me feeling stuck. I have learned to compartmentalize in order to keep the peace though. Unnecessary chaos can come from revealing everything all the time. I reserve a right to privacy and some issues and so long as that issue doesn’t directly affect the person, it is okay. It is a slippery slope into the lies of omission though. Make no mistake, keeping pertinent information from someone is a lie. The question becomes how relevant is the information. If it is relevant then it is unethical NOT to speak up!
The Ethical Slut was recommended to me by a friend. The book came up in a discussion about open relationships. It was interesting. The idea is that one can have many varieties of sexual experiences. Slutty is a term the authors were reclaiming as a positive one. A slut is simply someone who free expresses her sexuality, often and with lots of people, but not necessarily indiscriminately. This expression is not limited by the bounds of a normal relationship. Monogamy is not a must. You can be single, in a relationship or even married and still be an Ethical Slut. Heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual—it doesn’t matter. Every desire is embraced so long as no one is hurt.
The Ethical part is a focus on respect, honesty and compassion. So long as everyone is consenting, nearly anything goes. Group sex, threesomes, swinging, friends with benefits and regular relationships are all acceptable so long as everyone is aware and all right with the situation. The only thing frowned upon is lying and manipulating other people. Free love is only free when everyone has a choice in the matter. Lying takes away other people’s choices!
Before I really knew anything about this alternative life style, I believed in it. I have always valued truth over monogamy. The Ethical Slut merely shows I am not the only one who feels this way. It may not be a mainstream approach, but it is not unheard of. It isn’t an easy way to live, but for many, I think, it is the only way to be true to themselves. The complications are worth it because anything else would feel like an unethical lie.
The last book, Delete, is about memory. Before the digital age, it was much easier to forget about the past. It was easy to loose touch with a friend or lover. Before email and social networking, we could let arguments slip into oblivion. We could rewrite our memories. Victor Mayer Schonberger argues that we need to forget in order to learn, “If human actions are never forgotten, there is little need for people to push themselves to change,” he says. I am not sure that I agree, but I do believe he has a point about not being able to see the forest for the trees. If we recall all the tiniest details of our daily lives, it is easy to get distracted and not see the big picture. His quote of Borges is probably more precise. “To think,” Borges states, “is to ignore the differences, to generalize, to abstract.” Perhaps it is better to think than strictly recall. Our constant change is important to change. Facts matter, but not so much as our interpretation of them. Delete is a plea both for internet privacy and for the luxury of creating our own truths.