“To err is human. To cover it up is weasel.” (Scott Adams).
A therapist friend recommended a new book called “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Tavris and Aronson. I read a couple chapters and then skimmed through the rest. It reminded me of books by Malcolm Gladwell and the “Nudge” guys who are friends of Obama. Simple premise and lots of interesting examples. The premise in “Mistakes” is that people use a lot of self justification to defend bad decisions or hurtful behavior. Another phrase for this is “cognitive dissonance”. Cognitive dissonance is the “state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as their example: “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it will kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.” (Not sure this is the best example as tobacco is addictive so there’s a reason it’s hard to stop the dumb thing.) They also use the example of trying to make sense out of contradictory ideas such as Albert Camus’ idea that humans spend their lives trying “to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd”. This causes anxiety in most humans , they say.
It hit me that these psychologists must not be Jungians. Carl Jung embraced contradictions and was not cowed by them. The whole concept of the shadow aka our dark side is based on humans being born hardwired in a certain way but through the software of life that includes families, friends, and work, we begin to experience our opposites; the contradictions in life. If we learn and grow and accept these opposites/ contradictions, we are healthy. If we just can’t see our “dark side”, we don’t know that we live in a place called Weaseltown.
If you want a more fun book on the same topic and one with many examples from the work lives of people in cubicles, I recommend Scott Adams’ “Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel” written way back in 2002. I actually find the advice in his book quite profound. (His comparison of banks and the mafia is quite prescient). He also doesn’t pussy foot around evil behavior and its banality. Plus it’s funny and has cartoons. Adams explains that:
”There’s a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities. I call it the Weasel Zone* and it’s where most of life happens.”
*Sometimes also known as Weaselville, Weaseltown, the Way of the Weasel, Weaselopolis, Weaselburg, and Redmond.” [reference to where Microsoft is headquartered].
In the Weasel Zone everything is misleading, but not exactly a lie. There’s a subtle difference. When you lie, you hope to fool someone. But when you’re being a weasel, everyone is aware that you’re a manipulative, scheming, misleading sociopath.”
So when the weasel knows that you know he’s weaseling, Adams feels it is a form of honesty–”a weasel form”. Examples that he gives are of a contractor that says the job will be done in a week or the engineer that says he will explain things briefly or a politician who says that contributions have no influence on his votes.
Political writers have called this behavior in Washington, Japanese Kabuki theater signifying a lot of bluff and bluster but it’s all staged or, recently on ianwelsh.net, commenter “4″ called it “Kayfabe” for the unspoken art of fakery in pro-wrestling.
For the record, Adams is a critic of the Jungian psychological test known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. “The idea is that people can be categorized by personality type and you can work with them better if you take that into account. Okay, I buy that. My quibble with the theory is that if you aren’t bright enough to know that people have different personalities, you’re asking a lot of the Myers-Briggs training to get you over the hump. My second quibble is that their personality categories don’t include weasel, moron, or flaming butt-hole. I don’t know about you, but I rarely have problems with any other type of personality.”
This is exactly what my husband says every time I talk about someone that displays no empathy. I try to explain it by personality type or Asperger’s. He’s just says, “butt-hole”. But his theory breaks down when his friend displays butt-holeness. “Oh he means well,” or “he’s a good guy”. See that’s what we hear every day on the news about politicians. “He has good intentions, I’m sure”. Really? Really? Well that gets into defending your tribe. And that’s another essay.
This is where I’m supposed to come up with some uplifting idea or advice. I learned this from Scott Adams too. Adams advice is to embrace the inevitable and go weasel. But I’m still one of those who is still part of the resistance. So here goes my uplifting advice:
Living in Weaseltown works for most people. Again, to err is human, but to cover up the mistake is weasel. But for we few, we happy few who feel exhilarated by discovering the man behind the curtain, it’s time to put on our flippers and goggles because it’s time to get into that river once again and start swimming upstream.
Further reading: Chinese parents lie more than American parents
Further movies and TV with similar themes: “Enlightened” on HBO created by Mike White and Laura Dern and “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy starring Kiera Knightely, Jude Law, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.