Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Social Duplicity

There is a pervasive social duplicity that is practiced far too matter-of-factly. Duplicity, itself, is by no means, an endearing quality to begin with, but even less so when it is wielded so comfortably, and so cleanly, among family, friends and acquaintances. It is seen most profoundly in government. It moves through our work and social circles like a virus, unknowingly infecting even the most unsuspecting among us. When a culture, family or social group, continually demonstrates a particular form of behavior, even those who would be most immune to its influence become affected. People slowly begin to take on the character, style and behavior of their social groups. To not do so would be to eventually invite exclusion from the group on some level.

Duplicity: Defined as “The fact of being deceptive, dishonest, or misleading.” It is an insidious practice. It can be used offensively or defensively, with words, or actions, of both commission and omission. It is how attorneys have acquired such pathetic reputations. When I’ve had occasion to speak with people about honesty, for example, invariably they will put things in the context of whether or not a lie was involved. Rarely will people frame honesty in the context of whether or not a comment, behavior, action or non-action was deceptive or misleading. And there is an increasing inclination to try and convince an offended party that they must have just misinterpreted something. A convenient smokescreen, but really just a transparent and predictable demonstration of the very behavior that is being denied.

The continued practice of duplicity breeds a duplicitous nature. In the soul of an individual, and in the soul of a culture. I believe that is what is happening at an alarming rate today.
Duplicity is about deception and dishonesty, but it is really about character. As individuals, we become what we practice.

Addiction, as an example, develops as the result of practiced behavior. It is of a psychological, and eventually, a physiological nature. Duplicity is of a purely psychological nature, but it picks up momentum and becomes ingrained in ones character as a result of its continued practice, very much like addiction. It is used to gain an advantage over a person or situation. It goes to character. It will always go to character. And, ultimately, it ends up giving other people and situations an advantage over us. As we become compromised, we become weakened and less credible. Many have never recovered from the practice of duplicity.

We don’t start out with a duplicitous nature. It develops over time. Along the way, as we discover the ease with which we can manipulate others, we make choices when and how, and whether or not, to use those skills. Predictably, the more we use them, and the more successfully, the easier it becomes to continue on that path. It is often quite effortless to be less than honest, less than forthright, less than genuine. It becomes, for many, the path of least resistance. But, fortunately, the same can be said of integrity. As we practice honesty we gradually develop an honest nature. It just happens over time. It, too, becomes a natural pattern of behavior, becoming the norm, without additional effort.

I write about honesty, and the dearth of honesty, quite often. Not because I feel everyone to be lacking in the virtue, but because I know it to be the fundamental cause of just about every deteriorating relationship, be it family, friend, community or government. Relationships become strained when people become unable to look each other in the eye.
You can count on it. Unfortunately, many have become expert at being able to do just that. You might call that ‘duplicity in full bloom’.

People become what they practice. We can pretend otherwise, but that would just be an advanced form of duplicity. It's called self-deception.