My (Un)Pretty Pony

While I don’t crave anonymity per se, I work in a conservative field, and I run with The Perky Police.  It seems wrong to blurt out my heartfelt yammer and not sign my name at the bottom.  But there are reasons.

People who get to sport visible tattoos and piercings at work, or wear clothes that show their tastes and fancies…I envy them.  My career in insurance will hopefully be shed soon, but until then (and possibly forever) I’ll not scuttle my chances of employment by dressing like a rockabilly rebel and sporting jewelry like a gypsy junk sale.   Likewise, blogging about sex, politics, and religion are not only socially perilous, but Job Killers.  I don’t love a society that requires an honest opinion to be kept anonymous, but if I were an employer, I would learn all I could about my prospective minions, so…fair’s fair.

And yet it’s deceptive.  At work, when a new project team is formed, the leader demands that we relate personal details to get to know each other.  Around the table we go, talking about our college honors, golf games, Little League coaching, and leadership associations.  While there may be a little puffery, some slight exaggeration, all that you hear falls along the plumb line of truth.  And yet it’s foolish to assume you know Mr. Brown just because he says he is an Eagle Scout who enjoys singing in the church choir and shooting skeet.  Mr. Brown will never add that he has nine DUIs, comes from a family of Klansmen, and can’t be trusted with little girls.   Or whatever.

No one wants to air his dirty laundry at work.  But socially?  I grew up in the deep country, from a line of salt-of-the-earth farming folk.  There, it was normal to keep quiet, and if you speak up, you express yourself carefully, so as not to misrepresent yourself (you will have to stand up for what you say) and not be misunderstood.  But not to be afraid when expressing opinions, because each man gets to have his say.  There is a strong emphasis on respect, meaning “careful observation of boundaries” rather than admiration.  To each his own.  Anyone is free to reject my ideas, or disagree with them.  Polite rebuttal may result in reconsideration of an idea, and if no reconciliation can be made, the parties will learn to live with their differences or politely part ways.  Good day, sir or madam, and no hard feelings.

These ponderous rural manners didn’t wear so well when I moved to Oregon, which has its own version of “Minnesota Nice.”  It was considered poor form to disagree with anyone, except in the most circular fashion, and it was likewise rude to express strong opinions, lest you put someone in the horrifying position of having to disagree with you. Speaking forthrightly was also rude, since stating opinions without qualifications was considered arrogant.  God forbid anyone use a simple declarative sentence!  And how discomfiting to expect people to stand by what they had said!  While I was honestly charmed by all the effort made not to offend others, I did notice rotten side effects:  passive-aggressiveness; lying (instead of speaking an unpleasant truth, lying rather than having to say “no,” etc.); wretched guilt from perceived failure to meet the expectations of others (“how could I say no?”); resentment of others (again, from the burden of perceived expectations); mealy-mouthing (saying whatever will please the audience); and spinelessness (not backing up one’s stated position.  But who walks it like he talks it when he can’t be honest?)

Moving to the Southwest changed that for me.  People could disagree bluntly and openly, and not only would it not signal the end to the friendship, it would not even be construed as argumentative.  Disagreements great and small could be handled casually and with no hard feelings.  Picture me going back to Oregon and saying, “Nope, that’s bullshit, Donnie Yen could beat the socks off Jackie Chan,” or “Fuck that, Venezia’s pizza is superior by far,” or “No way.  Giselle Bundchen’s legs are far longer than Wilt Chamberlain’s.”  At best, it would be rude; at worst, inexcusable.  Not because of the facts (Wilt tops Giselle by a mile,) but because the upholstery matters more than the chair it covers.  This seems like lying, to my simple country mind, but I could sense the good heart beneath the intent, and I enjoyed the Oregonian civility as much as I appreciated the Southwestern bluffness.

But in the part of California where I now live, we have the Perky Police, and they are dangerous.  Contrary to what the Cali-haters may think, it’s not because of their delicate sensibilities.  It’s because so many of them are gossips.  These are lovable people, with extended circles of friends, who still cannot trust each other, and who will not eject from their circles those who are plague vectors of dirty dish.  I admit that not all folks are like this, but chances are good they have among their friends those who are — but rather than shunning them, they act accordingly.  Being relentlessly positive is both a sincere way of life and a sort of risk management through giving your enemy no grip.  Share your joys, but not your pains.  So their corner of the web is crammed with their promotions at work, prizes won, international travel, wildly successful business ventures, lavish parties,  and other joys — but no controversial opinions, no heartfelt essays, no honest doubts or fears or depth of feeling (nor any chance for real communication, meeting of the minds, gracious accommodation of difference, or mannerly dissent.)

Smiling faces and Billboard Love.  Not lies, but an entirely bowdlerized version of reality — especially online.  Since one’s enemies will read whatever you post, and even one’s trusted associates will share it with those enemies, it’s a survival trait to make every post bulletproof and fireproof, seamless and sweet.

It is smart to be aware that anything online will be shared with the world and never completely erased.  But what is the point of blogging if we are back to the project team confessional?  Golf handicaps and Diamond Club and Phi Beta Kappa and who gives a damn?  The faintest of ink outlasts the strongest of memories, it’s true, but my the riskiness of venting will hopefully be mitigated by the attempt to remain anonymous.  No name, no pack drill.  But all the other stuff will be out for the world to see.  The good, the bad, the delightfully strange and the Subject To Change.

Anyone with a problem can go bitch about it in his own damned blog.

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