Essay: Honestly, What are You Afraid of?

When I was a kid, I paid attention. I paid attention to what I paid attention to and nothing more. Sometimes what made me see what was right or wrong was observation. Sometimes I discovered right and wrong without example. But other times I found the right thing alone by looking at the wrong thing and trying to stop it. This is why my life is filled with trouble. I simply cannot stand dishonesty, lying, thievery, cruelty, and self-righteousness. Woah is me.

So, you get up and start your day and try to pay attention to what the most important thing is, which is to stay out of trouble. They call it high risk. Don’t take chances and don’t take risks -unless there is a reward or flat-out cash offer. I pity those people who think they take risks but ultimately are taking a risk only big enough to brag and not get arrested. Ever been arrested for a good reason? I’m not suggesting it, but maybe there’s a good reason to resist something or have follow through. It’s up to you because there’s brave and then there’s stupid. But then there’s brave and then there’s the police and America and its problems. Man, it’s not just a guarantee that the world will bite you -for the just? It’s a promise.

Now we have a digital immediacy to our lives wherein an instant something we do or say can ripple out and we’re a “world star.” So what? That’s not the end of the story. That’s your fifteen minutes of fame that’s forever online. But we have gotten to a place as a culture where that fifteen minutes of forever punishes us. The real thing here? Sin. And if the world saw our sins? Some would forgive and some wouldn’t. But even then, nobody sees all of someone -not ever, and it’s the best of people who not only forgive, but want to stay with you in this broken thing called life.

When I was a teenager, I took on some real a-holes. More specifically (avert your eyes if your a conservative and stop reading the abridged version) real, horrible people that are best called “assholes”. Yep. Full word there. I’ll dial back now. I’m dealing with some a-holes right now and I’m not shy to say that there’s no better word than the word I just wrote to describe them. Could I call them cowards? Crooks? Wicked? Nasty? Lost? Sure. But sometimes, people are just, well let’s just say I said it twice. The euphemistic approach to language terrifies me and it’s a great word to use for the first time when you’re a teenager.

As adults, we tend to reserve certain words from use because we don’t want a few seconds of our fifteen minutes to be in an online video where we “lost our shit” and could have just said “Hey! You’re a jerk!”. Language. “Watch the language” they’ll say. That’s exactly the problem.

We watch our language at the cost of the best way to say something at it’s most pure, and there is the dishonesty I’m talking about. What is really going on within the reservations of our honesty is a core of fear. I’ll tell you this, when I took on some kids that were beating the hell out of other kids, stealing their lunch money, smashing them into lockers and bullying it up at the age of sixteen? The way I finished it in the hall was to use a word you couldn’t say in school. I simply called them assholes. That shifted the bullies quick because it was a single word that outpaced their cruelty to my classmates and gave bullies no chance for a proper response. It finished them. This was, of course, the late eighties and that was like yelling “fire” in a playhouse. It rolled the whole hall. One could clearly see gleaming gratitude with an echo from the silent geeks smiles that gave me my invisible medal of courage. I still wear that silly thing to this day.

The question remains, “What are you afraid of?” Being honest is one of the biggest fears people have because it requires zero tact when honesty is at its most raw. Being brash is one thing, but honesty? The fear of being judged for your judgment is risk aversion 101.

I generally don’t believe people are evil. I tend to think that a person is not made up of a single moment or even a series of bad moments (excluding criminal acts that is -and even then we have the likes of Alex in A Clockwork Orange to showcase how far sympathy can and should go). But I also know now that not everyone gets to be my friend and vice versa, and that when you get screwed over by someone you love? There’s cause to being afraid for your future and to resign some honesty. I for one prefer to keep going with the right stuff.

When I was in college, the stakes changed. The rules were simple -experiment, play, learn and absorb. Just one problem. You’re an adult. Sort of. Age 19? Really? An adult? College is where a playground mixes up with adults and all the other “older” people that are older adults, but risk is still there and honesty begins to be fenced within the parameters of four-year civil knowledge “get out of intellectual jail free” playtime.

We tended in college to get honest about what we knew as we became the latest experts in the crap we knew that others didn’t in other disciplines. Challenging someone to a thought argument wasn’t exactly challenging someone to a dual if it was interdisciplinary -what a joke! If philosophies or morals veered away from our characters, we tended to bail or ghost, but in the new digital frontier, ghosting doesn’t work. The trail is always there. Digital breadcrumbs enshrine our guilt, or it at least seems to. Even reserved digital risk becomes, in the modern age, a false resume. Don’t get me going on character references because we all know that’s an absolute load of horseshit from every single person because that’s just your best-goddamned friends saying good crap about you and you’re burying all the real things that make you awful. Good? Bad? Honesty? Risk? You get to an age where, if the money or age is there, you don’t give a shit and don’t have to and shouldn’t. And then? Lots and lots of people end up liking you because you’re saying the things that adults are absolutely terrified to say or never would or missed the chance to.

We pretend we are good. We pretend we don’t read the word “asshole” and find it true for absolutely specific people. Irony has it? One of the most horrible people I’ve ever known just so happens to be a surprise. Few men have turned me cruel, so the least bad of them is my measure for this person. Are they an a-hole? Oh, you bet. There is no better word. Well, maybe the word “untrue” is better, but that big cup of bitterness will be dealt with in two more decades because that’s my stupid story and not yours. Just being honest here.

The latest news story? Talking heads saying whatever they’re saying that we don’t really need to know about. If one of those anchors ever got a clue during a live broadcast? Can you imagine? Cutting to footage of puppies in a buffer story causing them to finally turn to the camera and say, “You know what folks? I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Guess that would be crazy if a news anchor just finally got a clue about being a scripted, monetized, parroting puppet puking nonsense into the minds of meathead viewers. Too honest? Really? Bill Hicks had some things to say about it, that’s for sure. Thank you, Bill.

The change will never come because there are more than three stations on television and nobody is watching the same anything anywhere and that’s why the average viewer doesn’t care about television content at all -especially the news. Besides all that, I’d like to mention my position as the likes of William Holden’s character in the film Network. He shows how enacting change in people of power and privilege only goes so far until you have to get a suitcase. He stopped even the coldest of people with little emotion at all. He did so from his tier of leadership in total and complete, honest risk. I admire that idea. I’m really in reality nothing like that failed hero in Network. Not yet. I’m more the “mad as hell” guy, but I’m learning that being effective in change management on a societal level is nearly impossible. Nearly. I’m resisting that big time. It’s going to take being really real -not just on a local level.

So, be afraid. Be very afraid. Be afraid of the random person that privately looks at something you wrote, said or did and thinks they’re excluded from being wrong or cruel or mean or an a-hole because it’s just as likely that they’re excluding themselves from one of the most important human characteristics one can have -honesty. And honestly? They’re probably unwilling to realize that they hurt the world more and more each day with that fake smile and life of zero risks. So what? They’ll say they’re wiser and braver for laying low with a latte. Okay. If that’s what they need to clean their conscience on looking the other way when effective moral change can take place? Fine. One word for that type of person? Just one word? Not the one your would expect. The best word?