Deception as a tool for self-improvement


by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

No doubt you have overheard it promoted to someone who has recently suffered a loss or set-back that they should do something to take their mind off it. Very often the politic proposal is to do something which is for the benefit of others rather than oneself. This is clearly a device designed to distract the injured party from his or her own misfortune. Strangely enough it unremarkably unfolds that industry directed to the betterment of others vastly uplifts oneself.

There are of course exceptions, those who are steadfastly dedicated to their own vexation and who are extremely reluctant to divert themselves from the preoccupation. Generally speaking however the subterfuge works even though it smacks of nothing more artful than putting on a happy face. Besides one can appreciate the return on the capital investment. Putting others before oneself, acknowledging that there are so many others whose condition is far worse than one’s own, and merely distancing oneself from the knots of one’s own sometimes stodgy existence is easily more profitable than cultivating an unhappy circumstance. This is not to say that the task is undaunted but there is a good chance it will provide at least temporary relief, by which time the strength of the original incident may have subsided. And even if not, there is seldom anything lost in so altruistic a venture.

Along this line of self-imposed deceit are other prescriptions such as learning to "rise above it". This too is mildly Machiavellian though once again oddly successful. This is an especially cerebral misrepresentation, more in the nature of a private act of deliberation than an overt act of public kindness. Nonetheless almost by virtue of its enigmatic lineament it appears to vitalize one’s resolve. There is additionally something terribly civilized about it as well, stoic in a word, right up there with the "stiff upper lip"! One can readily enlarge upon the tact by vouching for its conspicuous maturity, capturing as it does a good deal of the philosophical element, the randomness of life and so on. In short it purveys every hint of sophistication, dare I even say Sophistry? This particular device has a leg up on the less empowering adage that "it could happen to any one of us" which when you think of it is hardly relieving and instead seems to convey some entitlement to adversity.

A more passive remedy for one’s personal troubles is – if you’ll forgive the temporary lapse into the vernacular – the adoption of something approaching "Don’t let the bastards get you down!". In spite of its aggressive tone, it is of course little more than snapping one’s fingers at the dragon, a mere "Pshaw!" in the face of the devil himself. The dissimulation here is the pretense to be unmoved by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. While it may put too fine a spin on it, if your calamity is ostensibly at the hands of others, you might even consider going the extra mile by proclaiming that it is the privilege of the masses to mock their betters! This particular arrogance really rubs their collective noses in it while indirectly avoiding the decided indiscretion of having to stand on others to make yourself taller. It’s almost a trivial concession which has the effect of deflating the opposition, certainly a dismissive act of the most extraordinary order!

Some measures are more generic, things like "Into every life some rain must fall!". This I find has the poetic bent to it, though as a result it is equally dispiriting in my opinion. Ever it was that resort to poetry so often accompanies a heightened level of despondency. Waxing poetic with one’s eyes uplifted and distantly focused on the stars was never my idea of getting through a rough spot; rather it appeared more like caving under the weight of it.

I suppose I could go on recounting those many other exhortations which often flow so freely from the mouths of others, those innumerable proverbs which are invariably designed to separate you from the poignancy of your own bad luck. Yet it probably matters very little in the end how one packages the condensed saying. What does matter is that – by deceit, logic, arrogance, poetry or otherwise – one manages to insulate the problem and isolate oneself from it. It may seem a glaring oversight on my part to have failed to mention the possibility of confronting the problem head-on and dealing with it, but that can be such a consuming undertaking, very often at the risk of devouring oneself in the process. In any event, what I am talking about here is merely a bit of taradiddle, a little white lie just to get one through the initial difficulty. There will always be time to go right deep down into life’s misery.