Liars and Commitments

I always try to be honest. I very rarely misstate facts intentionally. I may withhold facts or not say the whole truth, in order to protect. I may speak indirectly to keep some things secret to some people (e.g. kids). I write fiction, which has the presumption of being a story, of some higher truth but not literal. But I don’t lie and I don’t resort to these other methods of communicating facts lightly.

Communicating is a form of commitment. It is a commitment to the person you are communicating with, that these are the facts as you understand them. It is a commitment that the person you are speaking with has a right to hold you to. If you are inconsistent, they have a right to point this out. If you are inconsistent in a way that is beneficial to you, they have a right to be suspicious. And if you are stating the highly unlikely, or what is highly unlikely given the audience to which you are speaking, they have a right to question. The system of communication breaks down when people are dishonest, and we have a commitment to the system of communication in so far as we want to take part in it.

Lies are adversarial, not just to the people to whom you are speaking, but the system of communication itself. Liars are adversarial to community. I have spoken of breaking commitments, however, and the trouble of making commitments deliberately and following through with them deliberately, rather than making them flippantly and later rationalizing away. These are also antithetical to community. They are not adversarial for the reason that they are not done with necessary intention – though under the recognition of what you are doing as ‘flippant’ or what you will likely do as ‘rationalize them away’, they may be.

Lying is also viral. If someone knows people are lying, particularly about other people, then they are less committed to the principle of truth telling about others themselves. It can be quite painful to be thoroughly committed to truth telling when you know others are not, and this can sometimes lead at least to exaggeration and at worst preemptive lying.

To be level headed, to not overcompensate or undercompensate for the emotions which you know may well be affecting your judgment, is a sometimes quite difficult proposition. It is better – I believe – not to compensate at all, but find the peace of mind to state facts and analyze these statements for errors in omission or minimization or exaggeration at a later time, making any necessary clarifications.

Truth-telling is a form of commitment I am good at and do not compromise lightly. Truth-telling is also the ethical characteristic which best holds a person together, as well as a community.

The Torture of Mistrusting Yourself II

I have spoken of the torture of my excursions into research and writing when all commitments are broken, as though by the call of God to take up my pen; that state that makes me so wretched, which I try so much to defend; that time when all things make sense, and yet there is but disarray around me – to which I am oblivious until I must try to excavate my kitchen from garbage and grime. There is more to it, unfortunately.

I fail myself also in how I make my plans. I typically overestimate my abilities to produce. If I am energetic when making the plans, I presume I will be energetic at all times covering the scope of the plan. If I lack energy, I presume I will have far more energy to do things at a later time. This can also be said of how I make commitments to others, but it is different as applied to myself in that, I know this of myself, and can use this as an excuse to abandon plans. I can say “I was simply being overzealous” and feel no guilt and suffer no other direct punishment, if the plans are for myself.

I may fail myself in my health. Particularly when under stress or sometimes in my moments of concentration. I can fail to eat well. I can fail to sleep well. I can fail to exercise at all. I may put on weight I cannot spare. I may drink more caffeine than I can handle. I may consider myself invincible and allow myself more beer than is conducive to the next day’s work. I may fail relating to people and treat them all as part of a scenery to which I’m oblivious. I may not bother to love or reach out or care for others only to find myself soon thereafter alone and lonely. I may disregard prayer or meditation. I may not think twice about the hole I am digging for myself.

Then again, I may be riding high; I may be at the top of my game; I may be reaching out to others; I may be happily making progress in the right direction; And I may for reasons unfathomable to me, be struck by a migraine which sidelines me for two days with blurred vision, sensitivity to light and sound, disoriented thinking, and a temporary imprisonment I can’t possibly deserve.

All you can do is endure, and first do no harm. But I also fail myself when the excursions are over and the migraines subside, because I too often forget where I left off. I do not remember what had been on the agenda or bother to pickup with the tasks I had missed. I simply start anew, as though the excursion and migraine had wiped away all of what I was working on and towards. It seems like such a simple thing to accept your former self as you. The same you which committed to doing things for themselves and others now. It is a part of integrity which I struggle with more than ethical or logical integrity.

These intervening moments like migraines and excursions form a schism between my past and current selves. I never considered myself “flaky” and I must say, I never want to have to. But I let myself down in another way, in how I compensate for this difficulty. Instead of making commitments and sticking to them, I am reluctant to make commitments. Being non-committal protects me from breaking more commitments than I would otherwise, but does not help me toward succeeding in the areas I wish to succeed. To do this, I can’t avoid commitments altogether.

To find success, I must work on both the deliberateness of my commitments and carrying out my commitments deliberately.

The Torture of Mistrusting Yourself

To determine the conditions in which I have failed myself, is in some ways more difficult than the task I have addressed in How I Have Failed Others. It sounds nice and philosophical to say the tasks are simply the same, but I don’t believe they are, primarily because the commitments I make to myself rely on me to an extent which other commitments do not.

As with others, I fail myself, principally, in failing to keep to the plans which I make for myself. I do this largely because I get over-committed, things come up, and I make honest-though-mistaken use of my time. These are standard and apply to commitments to others as well. I also fail myself in the other two ways which I mention in the previous post. I fail myself in the games I play with myself and I fail myself by flights of fancy, temporarily abandoning all structure. These two, however, are distinctly different when the commitments are only to myself.

Generally my problem is not that of playing tit-for-tat with myself, and therewith breaking commitments as retribution. My problem is, instead, that of *not* playing tit-for-tat with myself. When I do let my former self down, there are rarely any immediate consequences – any consequences within my window of association – which train me to fulfill my commitments to myself. There need to be legitimate punishments.

In fact, the moments of “flight” I have spoken of are quite the opposite. In those moments I am taken by an idea in need of investigation or something in need of writing, I break commitments to seek a sort of near term fulfillment, which rewards me for breaking my commitments to myself. I do not simply stay at home to drink beer. Rather I do something far more satisfying, which I can also justify as of much deeper and greater significance than mundane commitments – and a deeper and greater significance to me. Because they are of deeper and greater significance to me and I am breaking commitments to me, I do not have that guilt of being mistaken or selfish. But if those moments come at the wrong time – and I cannot well time them – they promise me far greater trouble than success.

What it seems I need is likely what many people need, but is hard to achieve: good planning/resource allocation and an appropriate system of rewards and punishments for breaking commitments. In this, a valid system of rewards and punishments is crucial. But for me it is always undermined by chasing nobility, those matters of greater and deeper significance.

The torture of mistrusting yourself – using Nietzsche’s phrase – would seem punishment enough, but chasing nobility provides a near-term fulfillment, which rewards commitment breaking, and mistrust alone is not enough to offset it. And still, I struggle at this very moment to say I should not chase those moments. When I look at those things I have accomplished by chasing ideas whole heartedly in 10 day intervals – I have to say they are some of the things I am most proud of.

It is a kind of torture indeed.

How I Have Failed Others

I don’t intend to list the ways in which I have failed others. What I want to understand are the conditions under which I have failed them.

When I have a sense that people are judging me wrongly or with bias, I get defensive. When I am on the defensive, I may be quick to take credit where only partial credit is due; I may be more critical of others than they deserve; I may wallow in self-pity and give little of myself to anyone else; I am quickly indignant and questioning of motives; I am quick to accept adversaries as an explanation for what is wrong; I feel that “If I do not stick up for myself, who will?” overcompensating myself, for lack of a sufficient network to vouch for the credit I deserve. All my time and energy is spent on the ready, in a consistently heightened state. Perhaps unnecessarily so.

Logically, depending on the duration and the appropriateness, the above is an example from resources “diverted” or “misappropriated” or “over-committed”. I am not always so willing to use my resources, however. At times I can be petty. I can fail my commitments purposefully. I can feel slighted or not appreciated or annoyed, and intentionally not do something I committed to doing for the sake of “getting back” or “setting aright” or even revenge. I am not usually so callous. Rather, I let things slip, and do not feel bad. I put things on the back burner and never do get to them, because there were others I’d rather do things for. I may feel so personally unimportant to those I am committed to that I just don’t care whether I do what I said I would or not.

Other times I am aloof to the significance of keeping commitments. I don’t think at all about what I had said I would do that day. I am so easily diverted from any schedule that I don’t even look at my calendar and when I do, I push everything back or decide it was unimportant after all.

There are external and internal issues with resource contention, there are the games we play, and then there is that feeling like you are seeking that something or have found that something which is far more important than anything that could be on the schedule today. You can’t plot a course if the person steering the ship may very well at any time decide to go back to the dock and buy themselves a puppy.

Still, there are too often times that I feel I “just can’t” do something today and in reality I am much more energetic doing something else, that I give into the notion that it really is ok in such not-so-rare moods to give into commitment breaking. But if I cannot handle the commitments I have made, I should fulfill them and make commitments which end those kind of commitments eventually, in the future. I should not relent so whimsically to breaking the existing commitments.

Diversions and resource contention will always be an issue. One must always be judicious in their game play, but that will likely always be an issue too. I can, however, decide to stick to the schedule and not go fishing to try and reel in the big one. I am, after all, not easy-come-easy-go or happy-go-lucky, even if I sometimes can’t keep myself on track.