Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Trust Me

Two words, spoken by characters as long as we have had story to tempt and comfort us, fling open the doors of the human condition, throughout culture, historical era, and any consideration of what is at stake.

"Trust me."

If that trust is not forthcoming quickly enough to suit the one who pronounces it, the next step is to add two more words.  "Don't you trust me?"

At what point does honesty lose its best policy license and become a burdensome consequence?  To put that question in another light, when does truth change from the virtue of its presentation to us in our youth to its potential for moral conundrum in our adult stage?

Ah, you say; it is all relative, reminiscent of those early middle school and high school debate settings, where the truthful guys wore the white hats, the untruthful ones, the liars and dissemblers, wore the black hats, and ideals were worth standing up to a bully to protect.

You were given cause to think of such matters sometime toward the end of last week, when you were asked for your opinion of something.  You'd known the person who asked the question for some time, were less guarded about your answer, and indeed were pleased with the ability to be so.  This is one place where real time and story overlap;  close friends are more inclined to let the guard down in exchanges of conversation and the ongoing Q and A among friends.

But the door to speculation is left open when, in response to your reply, you hear, "Nothing like brutal honesty."  It is not spoken with any hint of rancor.  A friend, stating a fact.  But here we are, at coffee with a group of friends, and two hot-button words, brutal and rancor, have emerged, one from the friend who'd asked your opinion, and you from your response to the friend's conclusion.

Truth relates to the actual state of a circumstance.  Honesty becomes associated with a presentation of point of view.  An individual may believe he is telling the truth in reporting his version of an event or his opinion of any noun you care to dredge up, any person, place, or thing.

You look beautiful/handsome.

This was among the most imaginative and satisfying meals I have ever eaten.

Your poem caused me to see connections between disparate things in such a positive way that I will always remember the rush of insight.

That music filled me with the same sense of hope and exultation I get when I hear the last movement from the Beethoven Ninth Symphony.

All four of these observations--judgments, if you will--depending on the manner in which they are rendered, have the potential for being complements, but with the slightest turn of point of view, they become untrue, thus lies, their inherent power then to uplift and reward their recipient or to misrepresent the actual opinions of the observer with a devious intent.  

Whether the devious intent is to disguise the observer's true feelings, spare the observer the potential embarrassment of relating the actual response, or dissemble because the observer lacks the courage to tell the truth, honesty is the crux.  You might also call it the fulcrum on which relationships are based.

Truth and trust are significant conditions in play between characters in story.  One poignant example resonated for you in John Steinbeck's near perfect novella, Of Mice and Men, from the first time you read it to the most recent time about a year ago, when you assigned it as one of the texts for a writing course.  From the earliest introduction of the two principals, George and Lenny, where their relationship is spelled out, we know how important a force Lenny's trust of George is.  

In short order, we come to understand the poignant implications of it, watching the awful complexity of it grow before our eyes.  When the elderly worker, Candy, is bullied into allowing his again dog to be put down, the awfulness of the growing complexity becomes a seedling taking hold in our awareness, resulting in an honesty more profound and awful than the brutal honesty of your observation made last week.

Whether the relationship exists in real life or story, the illusions of feelings, personal tastes, and accuracy of vision pelt us like surprise hail storms.  "Trust me,"  one character says to another, and our inner alarm systems respond by wanting to warn the more naive of the characters.

A child of the pulp and plot-driven story, your greatest despair was the difficulty you had in devising the plots of writers you admired.  This led you to years of despair and the ultimate realization, gained after you learned, that this was not the sort of story you wished to write or could write with any enduring sense of accomplishment.  

Your story is two or more characters, each believing themselves to be right, thus seeing or knowing the actual state of circumstance.  Or one character telling another, "Trust me," with the awareness that each has a different goal or purpose in mind.

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