The way that President Donald Trump behaves — a mixture I find both exhausting and toxic — is far too familiar.
He accuses everyone who disagrees with him of trying to undermine him.
He’s flapped his hand at his wife in public as if she were a poorly-trained servant, leaving her behind as he ascended the White House steps — leaving the Obamas, instead, to escort her, each extending a gentle hand to Melania’s back.
He has every privilege and power the world can bestow upon him and it’s insufficient to his insatiable needs.
There’s no way to predict what he will say or do next, and millions worldwide are now on tenterhooks, anxious and insecure.
What fresh hell awaits tomorrow?
Been there, lived it and hated it.
I grew up in a family that had mental illness and alcoholism in it. You learn to adapt, even while you wish you didn’t have to. You’re constantly on-guard for the next draaaaaaama, the next mess to clean up.
Americans are learning to similarly bob and weave and dodge and feint to accommodate his incompetence and capriciousness.
How to cope:
We become hyper-vigilant, ever alert to the next catastrophe.
We anticipate disaster, ever ready to finesse it, no matter how scared or overwhelmed we really feel.
We’re confused, because what was said the day before — or 10 minutes earlier — is now different. Pivot! Fast! Do it again!
The cognitive load leaves us unfocused or less productive at work and in intimate relationships. We’re burned out.
Gaslighting is incessant, the denials of terrible things they just said. You heard it. You saw it. But…no, you didn’t, they insist.
Do you trust what you read, hear or see in the mass media?
A Gallup poll of 1,000 Americans a few months back says no:
Their findings: just 21 percent of the people surveyed ranked newspaper reporters with high or very high honesty and ethical standards. Next came lawyers, tying with 21 percent, followed by TV reporters at 20 percent, then advertisers at a miserable 14 percent.
Just so we’re clear, here. I work as a journalist and often write for The New York Times, which sends out a long and detailed ethics code it expects all freelance contributors to adhere to. Interestingly, though, every freelancer — whether an artist, writer or photographer — is completely vulnerable to the whims of their individual editor, some of whom have been abusive indeed: abruptly killing stories, (which cuts our fees dramatically), or sitting on unpaid invoices for months.
One of the paper’s more challenging demands, for example, is that no freelance writer can ever accept a paid trip to write a travel story, (even for another publication or outlet) — which leaves its travel section open only to people with deep-enough pockets to jet off to exotic destinations and pay all their food and lodging as well.
Another issue the Times is fussy about, and which seems fair to me, is not interviewing friends, relatives or groups in which you have a financial interest — i.e. your brother-in-law’s fab new company.
On this blog, I occasionally mention companies, products and experiences I’ve enjoyed — none of whom pay me to do so. If and when I’m able to get sponsored posts, I’ll be very clear who’s paying me to say what.
So when I read or listen to “news” of any sort, I expect to be told of any potential conflict of interest, even though that’s unlikely.
If someone takes a freebie, then raves about said item or experience, they need to come clean to their audience.
I once attended BlogHer, an annual conference that attracts 5,000 bloggers. I didn’t much care for it, although it’s obviously hugely popular.
The reason I would not go back was the exhibition hall, where women thronged the booths to collect as much free loot as they could carry. That’s not why I write or blog.
It’s also not what journalists do.
Have you followed the excruciating behavior — and criminal trial it led to — by UK editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson?
A British jury has declared Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World and executive at News Corp., not guilty of criminal charges. She had been charged with participating in the paper’s phone-hacking practices, for covering up evidence, and for involvement in payoffs to silence the police or solicit their help in fetching fresh news stories. At the same time, they found Andrew Coulson, Brooks’s successor—who went on to serve as communications director for the Prime Minister—guilty on charges of conspiracy to intercept phone messages. Stuart Kuttner, the paper’s former managing editor, was also found not guilty; charges against some of the editors’ other colleagues have yet to be resolved. But a criminal case is not the final word on whether either editor, or News Corp., nor much of the British tabloid press, has betrayed the principles of journalism.
Ethical failures may not merit a jail term; they do merit a spotlight. In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Sir Brian Leveson, a prominent judge, to call witnesses to inquire into the culture and ethics of the British press. A year later, Leveson issued a report than ran more than two thousand pages.
Other recent ethics scandals have depressed and dismayed many, like the discovery that Cambodian human rights advocate Somaly Mam had been less than truthful.
Now Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, is calling on Kristof to “give readers a full explanation” of his reporting on Somaly Mam, the celebrated Cambodian anti-sex-trafficking activist who, according to a recent Newsweek expose, fabricated parts of her story and those of some of the alleged victims she advocated for. The revelations have disillusioned many of Mam’s loyal supporters and left the press looking gullible. Just as importantly, they’ve highlighted the public’s seemingly insatiable desire for heroic narratives—and the willingness of many in the media to provide them.
Kristof was hardly alone in promoting Mam and her initiatives. Several respected outlets, including Newsweek, have played handmaiden to her celebrity. Consider just a partial list of media-bestowed accolades: Mam was named a CNN Hero and Glamour’s Woman of the Year. She was included in the Time 100, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women—the list goes on. When stories like hers crumble, however, few in the media pause to examine how they could have been so thoroughly duped. Fewer still acknowledge their complicity in perpetuating stories that were too good to check out.
Partnerships between NGOs and big-brand companies are developing even faster than those with energy and pharmaceutical corporations. Environmentalists have led the way, collaborating with, and accepting money from, big-box retailers and brand manufacturers. The Environmental Defense Fund blazed a trail in 1990 by partnering with McDonald’s to phase out the restaurant chain’s Styrofoam packaging. Today such partnerships are ubiquitous. IKEA works with WWF as a “marketing partner,” providing funding through the Global Forest and Trade Network to “create a new market for environmentally responsible forest products.” Conservation International works with Starbucks on sourcing coffee beans and with Walmart on tracking the sources of the company’s jewelry products. Monsanto and The Walt Disney Company are two other “featured” corporate partners of Conservation International (as of June 2013).
Executives from these companies also sit on the boards of environmental NGOs. As of June 2013, the board of trustees of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s includes Robert J. Fisher, past Chairman of the Gap board of directors, and Alan F. Horn, current chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. Neville Isdell, former CEO of Coca-Cola, is chairman of the board of the U.S. branch of WWF (known in the U.S. as the World Wildlife Fund) (as of June 2013). Rob Walton, chair of Walmart, also chairs the executive committee of Conservation International’s board of directors, which, as of June 2013, includes Paul Polman of Unilever (current chief executive), Heidi Miller of JPMorgan Chase (retired former president), and Orin Smith of Starbucks (retired former CEO).
Social and human rights organizations have generally been less receptive to partnering with big-brand companies. But this is changing, too.
I tend to be a fairly trusting person — until I get burned — as I recently was by a fellow blogger who really should have known better than to try to screw me.
I’ve sent her several un-answered emails asking her to do the right thing.
Many of you already read her blog, filled with cute personal stories and a you-go-girl! flavor. She blogs about writing and how to become a better writer and is very popular; last time I looked, she had almost 30,000 followers.
I used to read her blog and enjoyed it.
Then she reached out to me, after months of my comments, and asked me to teach for one of her on-line conferences. I did, offering my time and talent to nine of her students — unpaid. In return, she said, I could guest post and promote or link to my own classes.
I fulfilled my part of the deal.
She never did.
What ethical breaches have you recently faced?
Do you care if people behave ethically toward you or others?
But there’s another problem – a more insidious problem – with lying. Every time you tell someone you are ‘fine’ – when you’re not – you buy into the belief that it’s not acceptable to be depressed. In other words, the act of concealing your true mood, sends a subconscious message that it needs concealing, that it’s something to be ashamed of.
It’s a very sad indictment of our emotionally-illiterate society that those or us who are suffering the most have to hide our feelings to protect the sensibilities of everyone else. One in four of the seven billion human beings on this earth will experience poor mental health at some point in their life. That’s 1.75 billion people. And over 10 billion in the history of humankind. The only shame would be if all those people lived their lives feeling ashamed of something that is clearly such a common part of the human experience.
I consider myself incredibly blessed and lucky. For nearly a quarter of a century Lisa has been the center of my universe … and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
But we are people, with kids as well as all of the normal stresses and pressures.
Here are some of the things we have had a fight of some type or other about: money, sex, having children, buying a car, how to spend a work bonus, having more children, using credit cards, buying a house, our jobs, who is cooking, technology, raising our children, shopping for groceries, stopping having children before Lisa died (which was what the doctor more or less said after #2), moving after my layoff, my parents, her parents, my brother, her sister, my sister, my friends, her friends, the woman (my friend) who stood in line at our wedding and pretty much said she couldn’t believe I was getting married (apparently I was more than one person’s ‘back-up plan’), pretty much every one of our nieces and nephews, computer games, TV, sleep, running, the gym, the kids’ friends, our neighbors at every house, trash, dogs, cats, food … and pretty much anything else you can think of.
Our vulnerabilities are an essential part of our human experience. While our culture tends to want us to cover them up, to act like everything is fine and we are all doing “great,” Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to acknowledge our vulnerabilities, to enter into a vulnerable space with God at our side.
According to the Gospel of John, on the night of his arrest Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Foot washing was common in Jesus day, but it was the servants who washed the feet of guests, not the master of the house, or the master teacher.
For many of us the idea of letting someone touch our feet, let alone wash them, is uncomfortable. Why is that? Pause here and try to understand that in yourself.
For me, I think the discomfort comes from the radical vulnerability of letting a part of our body that we usually keep covered get uncovered. It’s hard to imagine letting someone touch and wash a part of our bodies that is less than perfect, possibly dirty and probably smelly. And I have one really messed up toenail, too.
I don’t want people to see that part of me that is messy and out of control. I don’t want to burden them with any discomfort they might feel about my feet. And I don’t want to feel the discomfort of my own shame.
Depending which culture you live in, some being far more discreet and emotionally buttoned-up than others, expressing your true feelings can create havoc, socially and professionally.
The United States values emotional self-expression and directness, (albeit with regional differences.) This can be quite unsettling if you come from a quieter and more discreet culture, where only your true intimates know how you really feel.
Being “honest” can outweigh being diplomatic or tactful.
Even with friends, I hesitate to reveal a lot.
And yet, a candid Skype conversation with one Broadside’s followers, who lives overseas and is also a nervous flyer, led to a kind and comforting email to me — as I prepared for three flights in one direction to rural Nicaragua. (One of them was really bumpy. Shriek.)
A young friend, 23, came for lunch recently and we talked at length, discovering, to our mutual surprise, we had both been bullied in high school, even as (because?) we assumed leadership roles there. We both blossomed, socially and professionally, while in college.
But many people see (only) who we are today — bright, attractive, super-confident women. They don’t know, (and nor would we be likely to discuss), the more painful and private backstory.
I’ve been told I’m intimidating in my self-confidence. My young friend sends off a similar vibe: assertive, comfortable in all sorts of new situations, willing and able to take charge…
No one would suspect, (and I had no idea about my friend’s experience until recently), that, when younger we’d both been so mistreated. We hide it well!
Not surprisingly, she’s also from a more reticent cultural background (British) , as am I (Canadian.)
But it felt good to discover that someone I admire and enjoy has endured, and thrived beyond, similar challenges.
Only if someone knows how we truly feel can intimacy and friendship root and blossom.
Over dinner with a young news photographer, he summed up a pathological issue for many news journalists:
“You can’t be a normal human being.”
By which he meant: for our work, we witness poverty and violence and death and listen to terrible tales of rape and incest and fiscal malfeasance. We cover fires and floods and the aftermath of landslides and car crashes and earthquakes.
Yet we can’t — at least in the moment — afford to feel much of anything, or we just can’t stay focused on doing our jobs. Nor can we cry or let our emotions show.
But then, to the people we meet and speak to and photograph, we often appear heartless and callous, because we’re not visibly reacting to what we hear and see. Some of us do have very deep feelings about our stories, but weeping at work is really not an option.
Then, later, maybe you sort out your feelings and process them.
I’ve cried at my desk only a few times over the decades of my journalism career; once when interviewing a dead soldier’s father, once when listening to the most unbearable of all — 911 tapes from 9/11 and again after interviewing someone who volunteered to help in the morgue after 9/11.
How about you?
Do you tell the people in your life how you really feel about things?
Do you share your private feelings in your blog posts?
I moved to New York in 1989, my NYC-born mother’s advice ringing in my ears: “People lie.”
Why, yes, they do. In astonishing numbers.
I grew up in Toronto, hardly a hamlet, but in a country with 10 times fewer people than the United States, where you can commit a whole pile ‘o crimes, move states (even keeping your name!) and start all over again. In Canada, if you lie, cheat and steal, the odds are exponentially higher that people in your professional and/or social circles will realize you’re a lying sack of shit and your odds of repeating your felonies and misdemeanors — or mere lies — probably somewhat lower as a result.
My first husband lied to me for months, then left. Later, as the lonely and insecure victim of a skilled con artist, back in 1998, I saw how effectively one’s buttons — (good looks! charm! intelligence! devoted attention!) can be pushed — by someone in the determined pursuit of a wholly different goal than one expects.
It amazes me, in a good way, how much trust is absolutely foundational to a functional world — whether your dog trusting you to walk him or her, even in -25 degree weather, or your boss relying on your skills to keep his or her company ethically profitable.
Every client who chooses to hire me freelance is placing their trust in me, an action I never take lightly. I think one of my USPs (keck — unique selling propositions) is that I almost never get it wrong; in 20 years writing for The New York Times, only three (damn them!) corrections.
Each time I apologized immediately and sincerely to my wronged source and editor. Luckily, all were gracious and forgiving.
I suspect we’re more forgiving of someone who is (briefly) fallible than falsely flawless.
Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource.
I recently re-watched the terrific film “An Education”, starring Carey Mulligan in her break-out role as a naive, bookish 16-year-old who falls hard for a charming liar, (is there any other kind?), and learns quite a bit as a result. So does her family, won over by David’s gorgeous car, smooth manners and apparently elitist connections.
Here’s American business guru Seth Godin on who we choose to read (deeply) and whose ideas we click past and dismiss:
TL;DR is internet talk for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s also a sad, dangerous symptom of the malfunctions caused by the internet tsunami…That mindset, of focusing merely on what’s fast, is now a common reaction to many online options.
There’s a checklist, punchline mentality that’s dangerous and easy to adopt. Enough with the build up, wrap this up, let me check it off, categorize it and quickly get to the next thing… c’mon, c’mon, too late, TL;DR…
Let’s agree on two things:
1. There are thousands of times as many things available to read as there were a decade ago. It’s possible that in fact there are millions as many.
2. Now that everyone can write, publish, email you stuff and generally make noise, everyone might and many people already are.
As a result, there’s too much noise, too much poorly written, overly written, defensively written and generally useless stuff cluttering your life.
When we had trusted curators it was easy. We read what we were supposed to read, we read what we trusted, regardless of how long it was, because the curator was taking a risk and promising us it was worth it. No longer. Now, it’s up to us.
We’re all susceptible to someone and their siren song: great sex, access to power, scintillating charm, a cool car, seductive flattery.
The comfort of feeling safe, even if we’re very much not…
How about you?
Who do you trust — fully, implicitly, cautiously — and why?
Ruthless, remorseless, relentless emotional manipulation. Armstrong was the perp, Te’o a victim.
The sad truth is this: Liars at the level of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend” — a catfisher extraordinaire — have as much resemblance to the rest of us as ice to fire. (To those of you not in the U.S., the Te’o saga is the big news story right now, a star Notre Dame college football player who had a two-year relationship by phone and email with a woman who said she had cancer and died.)
She never existed.
To the normal person, i.e. not a sociopath, who by definition is incapable of empathy (hmmm, how might have it felt to the journalists Armstrong sued, knowing they were right? Hey, who cares?), a lie is usually fairly minor:
That dress looks great! I love my new job! The kids? They’re terrific!
Sociopaths are a whole other breed. They see the rest of the world as prey, they the predators. Trying to get them to explain their behavior in rational terms — as Oprah Winfrey did in her interview — is like trying to get your dog to sing opera. No matter how much you wish it could happen, it won’t.
They just can’t do it. They don’t operate from the same essential principles as the rest of us.
High-level liars count on our goodwill, our good nature, our trust, our wish to believe that what people tell us is actually true.
I know this because in 1998 I became the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who left Chicago, where his exploits made front page news (working in tandem with his mother) and moved to New York in search of fresh and unsuspecting victims. I became one when, in December 1997, I answered a personal ad in a local paper.
You can’t make this bit up: “Honesty and integrity paramount” he wrote. He pretended to be a successful lawyer — in Chicago, he was a “doctor” with a “business card”, one so amateur the most junior health reporter would have known was fake.
We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. If we can’t move through the world with some balance of open-heartedness to cynicism, we’re toast.
I don’t want to rehash all the details here of what happened to me. I figured he was a liar very early on, but — lonely, broke, isolated, my self-confidence at an all-time low — I was roadkill. Easy pickings! I stayed because his behavior appeared, initially, kind and attentive: he brought me a pot of home-made soup to my door, for heaven’s sake. He was funny, smart, well-dressed, physically attractive.
It got much darker and then he opened my mail and stole a credit card and used my phone to activate it and forged my signature — there’s four felonies right there. The cops laughed and the DA did nothing.
But he fooled a lot of people, including my friend with the Columbia Phd in psychology and her multiply-published author boyfriend. I kept waiting for someone else to second my fears.
Only my mother, raised in NY, did. But by then it was too late.
It’s very odd when you discover one, let alone dozens, or hundreds. I grew up in an era when Caitlin, (a variant of Cathleen), was unheard of, at least in Toronto. People called me Cakelin.
(In Ireland, they pronounce it Kawtch-leen, in Wales, Cawth-lin. I say Cate-lin, thereby mangling my own name in two places. Ooops.)
My name, then, made me unique and distinctive, so much so that I wanted, for a teenage while, to become a less-unique Jennifer.
Now the Google alert on my name brings up daily mentions of “my” name — almost always high school athletes. When someone hollers my name in public these days they’re usually scolding a toddler.
When I began writing for a living, at 19, people accused me of creating a euphonious pseudonym. “But what’s your real name?” they’d ask, indignant.
Now Caitlin Kelly’s are bloody everywhere! There was even another one living for a while in my suburban New York town of only 10,000 people. When I once airily asked my mortgage company to look something up under my name, lists of them appeared. Ouch!
Here’s an amazing story from The New York Times about a reporter named Alan Feuer who reached out to his doppelganger — and discovered a Gatsby-esque tale of re-invention:
Beyond our name, we had nothing in common. He lived on the East Side; I lived on the West. He wore top hats; I wore baseball caps. When he asked about my family, I told him I was from Romanian Jews, most of whom fled Europe after World War II. Alan told me that he was from a family of Austrian bluebloods transplanted to New York. There had been, he said, a family fortune once; but, he added wistfully, “Mother lived too long.”…
Dear Mr. Feuer,
Ever since reading your article about the other Alan Feuer, I have thought about writing to you. I had no desire to disrupt his life while he was alive, but since he has passed away, I am wondering if you would be interested in learning the truth about his background.
The writer, I was shocked to find, was the other Alan’s stepniece; she told me she had known him since she was 5. Her letter laid out the family’s relationships — I knew that Alan was estranged — and then concluded on a melancholy note.
While the adult life he described to you was certainly true, his background was far from the one he claimed. If you would be interested in further information about this sad and, I think, somewhat troubled man, please feel free to contact me.
This is such an American tale! The hiding of one’s working class or less-affluent origins; the re-invention, hiding behind a European mantle of sophistication; the (correct) assumption that fellow Americans will be too polite or bamboozled to unmask you.
I grew up in Canada, whose entire population, (about 30 million), is that of New York State — only ten percent of the U.S. Social, educational and professional circles are smaller and tighter and lies usually easier to detect. The best universities number no more than five, so soi-disant backstories are harder to create from whole cloth when a few phone calls or mouse clicks can reveal the truth.
Here in the U.S. where bluff, bluster and the right clothes can go a long way to impressing people, you can become — and many do — whomever you choose.
At best, it’s charming and a testament to social mobility.
At worst — which I’ve experienced — it’s catnip to con artists, who know that an air of suave self-confidence can fool a lot of people for a long time. I dated one of these in 1998. He pretended to be a physician, while living in Chicago, and his business card, (doctors generally don’t have business cards!), boasted a string of credentials that mean nothing to anyone knowledgable. But the women he wooed didn’t know or care.
Do you have a doppelganger?
Have you met or been in contact? Are they like you?
A new book is out, “Liespotting: Proven Techniques To Detect Deception.” The author, Pamela Meyer, has one of the coolest titles I’ve ever seen — nope, not the Harvard MBA but Certified Fraud Examiner.
I think a lot about lying. Not how to do it, but wondering when and where it’s happening and why. Maybe because, as a journalist, my job is to ferret out whatever truth I can from people, sometimes people who really don’t want that to happen. Maybe because, the only two times in my childhood that I was spanked, once by my Mom and once by my Dad, were when they caught me lying. (Not that I did it often, or at all.)
Their unhesitating and visceral reaction left a powerful impression on me.
Now, though, older and sadly wiser, I see the lies in their lives, and in mine and in others, whether they are verbal, or of commission or omission.
I was, in 1998, the victim of a con man, whose web of deception was tight, thick, eventually suffocating. It shook me to my foundations, making me question every naive or safe assumption I had been making. My marriage ended after barely two years when my husband left and promptly married a colleague from work. That was less of a surprise.
In both instances, I was lied to on a regular, probably daily basis.
What I hate about lies is, very selfishly, how they make me feel when I discover them and review the decisions I made under their spell — stupid, manipulated, deceived.
I tend to be fatally candid. I’d rather take the hit, (and I have), of a friendship ended or angry relative or annoyed boss than cheat them with my deception and fake smiles and manufactured approval. I want to be in the game with all my heart, playing to win. If I discover that lying to one another underlies any relationship, it’s like running over broken glass.