Sunday, August 3, 2014

Honesty Ain't Policy

The main takeaway from a recent media celebrity non-scandal -- ESPN's suspension of First Take's Stephen A. Smith -- is that honesty is overrated.  Smith, certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing himself, gets paid to speculate and otherwise voice provocative opinions.  Beyond the fact he was filling time, I have absolutely no clue why he decided to postulate on the dynamics of modern dating as if it provided additional insight into Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's knocking out his (now) wife.  IMO, Smith spoke truthfully.  But in doing so, he got in trouble.

I'm not defending Smith as a victim of political correctness gone amok.  He isn't.  Neither has he been subjected to a double standard.  He forgot -- egged on by ESPN -- to make sure his self-check was turned on.  He certainly didn't help his case with that non-apology apology tweet-a-thon.  But I get that.  I am not about to rip him for demonstrating a common conceit of modern journalists, commentators, and pundits.  They're socialized to believe their every opinion is relevant, therefore valid, and facilitates healthy conversation.  ESPN is one of Smith's enablers.  Yet I've got no issue with the network throwing one of its talking heads under the golf cart. 

I refuse to get into an argument whether ESPN and Smith, respectively, were 'right' or 'wrong' as it's clear to me we humans aren't as concerned with candor, due diligence, honesty, full disclosure, etc., as many of us like to profess.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup from A Few Good Men, we can't handle the truth.  We often struggle when facing random and various facts, or more accurately, have difficulty reconciling fact with emotion.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Our brains' ability to block out select unpleasant or overpowering stimuli is actually quite impressive.  Dissonance, and in some cases outright ignorance, protects us.  There is a purpose; a value in 'for your eyes only', 'confidential', and 'need to know'.  None of us need to know everything -- the impossibility of which notwithstanding.

The inverse of We Don't Need to Know Everything is also true: we don't need to say everything.  Having the liberty to express ourselves isn't the same as knowing when, where, how, why, and to whom expressing ourselves is appropriate.  It seems many people in our culture are obsessed with volunteering their every thought or action for all to hear and see, regardless of whether the thoughts or actions make sense or if anyone is actually paying attention.  The behavior drives social media, reality TV, tabloid news, and is the basis for a 'self-help' industry that alternately attracts and repels people, sometimes simultaneously.  Considering the regularity with which individuals are censured for their public, semi-public, and sometimes private faux pas, off-the-cuff bad puns, tortured analogies, and malaprops -- often deservedly so -- my surprise is more of us aren't learning from these examples to just shut up.