Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"You think not telling is the same as not lying don't you."

I'm struggling, ethically, morally and I guess just regular brand struggle with this question at the very moment. With any luck I'll have figured out my own answer by the end of this post, if not the end of the sentence. I think I have. But that's okay! I can still remember the quandary.

Let's rephrase it from Jack White's beautiful lyrics into something more cold and clinical:

When does omitting information become an act of deception?

Consider if you will, that I actually did put my second degree to use, and you have come to see me in my financial planner capacity. And ima gonna give you all kinds of financial advice.

I would have to morally, ethically, legally, disclose any conflict of interest. If I advised all my clients to buy my artwork, issued under a more obscure psuedonym than 'tohm' it would be as clear cut an act of deception as can be.

Because it's self serving. I serve myself upside, foist downside onto my clients.

So naturally, if I am providing a service as a professional I have to declare any vested interests. As I would as a public servant, or any policy maker.

But if I am exposed to downside, which is to say, personal risk through disclosure, it gets murkier.

I am tempted to read Sam Harris' latest book, called 'Lying' largely because I have always endeavored to be honest, transparent open. Long before Sam wrote the book, I'd already read Abraham Lincoln's advice on the matter “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” 

 Given it's appeals to efficiency, ie. that being honest could save me effort - vis a vis, honesty is the lazy man's choice. I've been attempting to emulate Abe for quite some time.

But I heard in an interview that I shall omit to disclose by who, Sam Harris synthesized his findings into - so far as any problems we have are avoidable, we can avoid them by not lying.

Examples of egregious lies are not really of concern to me. I haven't ever, nor anticipate ever putting myself in such a desperate situation. Nor even the more garden variety 'white lies' much concern to me, I don't tell people I'm busy when I'm not, I don't tell people I like their dress when I don't, etc.

The question remains, when is not saying something - a lie. Therefore a problem. An avoidable problem.

I think I have some safe examples.

1. The pre-emptive rejection. I suspect Trevor has a crush on me. For whatever reason though, Trevor doesn't ask me out, make a move, confess his feelings whatever. Could be lack of confidence. Could be that he is reading the situation right, and knows that I would not return his sentiments.

But Trevor, ever optimistically behaves in a way around me that I actually don't appreciate, and kind of wish would stop. I only suspect Trevor is crushing though. He may only suspect that I have no interest romantically in him. His suspicion of course giving him crucial wiggle room into an act of self deception.

In the social taboo of pre-emptive rejection, I have an opportunity to not be complicit at the very least in Trevor's self deception. Telling the truth, may solve the problems of all the would-be-lunch-cutters called Tonya, Tamika, Sharon and Karen that I am interested in, but it would also put an end to the special treatment, time and attention Trevor lavishes on me. It could also 'ruin the friendship'.

I feel this scenario is clear cut, because I don't actually appreciate the fawning behaviour, that means there's more upside for me to tell the truth 'Trevor we can never be more than just good friends.' Than there is downside 'Are you fucking crazy! I'm not attracted to you!'

2. Trying to be succinct, I have a problem with a 'friend' albeit, a friendship that ends never was one, I believe that shit. I have three options - voice, loyalty or exit. We all essentially have three options. I'm not going to rehash what they mean, but I in my nature summarily reject 'loyalty' (mayhaps only a recent development) which leaves 'voice' and 'exit'.

Here I personally have a clear cut decision rule - if I value and love the person I go 'voice' I actually confront them with my problem and try to resolve it. This can be taxing and energy draining. Otherwise, I just choose 'exit' when I don't particularly value the friendship.

Exit, involves basically just ditching the person. No confrontation, you're just done with them. Is this a case whereby not 'voicing' my problems, and simply cutting them off - I'm committing an act of deception. I guess the crucial piece of information that I omit is 'by not communicating why I left your life, I actually don't care enough about our relationship to try and fix it.'

But the thing is, that my problems with a person are often not isolated. I only ever speak for myself, but simply walking away from a problem can leave that person liable to repeat the same mistakes in their other relationships. Do I have a moral obligation to say 'I'm done with you and here's why...'

In the longterm, such an exchange is pure downside for everybody. But it's hard for me to apply a golden rule, how I'd like to be treated. If my life was potentially seriously held back by the condition of my fingernails, something rectifiable, but nobody was telling me to spare the emotion of such a confrontation, long run I'd really resent being left in the dark.


They are two scenarios where I think omission can become, if not an outright act of deception, at least potentially do harm.

I think, I need to disclose. There remain questions of when and how for me, but I am honestly hard pressed to reason a way into feeling better by keeping people in the dark.

Please don't get paranoid reading this that I'm keeping something from you. It's incredibly rare for me ever to have a piece of information I hesitate to share. Like once every 5 years. Hence hencely, I don't really have an answer for myself yet.

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