Saturday, February 4, 2012

We Are Our Own Best Spin Doctors

Bob Marley--"Is This Love?" (mp3)

Remember that old Dan Fogelberg song that begins, "Met my old lover in a grocery store"? It's Christmas Eve, the snow is falling, the two share talk of old times and end up reflecting on their respective lonelinesses. Has that ever happened to you? Well, me neither.

But I did run into the ex-lover of a friend of mine. In a grocery store. All right, in the produce section of Costco. In that really cold room where they keep the raspberries.

She saw me, she called to me. We did that sideways hug that people do these days when they want to be personal but not intimate. We talked for several minutes, about children and families, about present states and future houses, about and around our real common topic--my friend.

It had been some four years, I think, since I had seen her, maybe even five. Time passes so quickly these days. I was frankly amazed at how pleasant she was, how normal, how rational and focused on the same daily concerns as the rest of us. Which is not to say that I was tricked in any way. I remember well what she was and what she had done. But I had never really shared a cross word with her, had actually had some enjoyable times in her company and she had been good to my children, and so it surprised me to see that she was actually a human being. That was what I had forgotten.

The only perspective that I had had of her was through the eyes and mouth of my friend. He did not ever describe her as I had seen her. And why should he? His life is still enmeshed with hers, and so she is often Satan incarnate, batshit crazy, a she-Harpy from Hell.

My wife's portrayal of her now ex-boss is not that different, except in terms of gender. There have been years where she would come home nearly every day with some story of his outrageous, unfair, sexist lying and cheating ways of conducting a business. And I'm absolutely convinced that she is correct. Why wouldn't I be?

I expect I'm the same way, even when I don't realize it, even when I don't intend to be. Although, frankly, I can't imagine when that was. None of us dispense that kind of information without a purpose.

See, even in this age of overwhelming amounts of information, there are vast amounts of it that no one has any control of except ourselves. In spite of the easy checking of facts on the Internet, the reams of data that pour out of the mouths of blathering idiots on television, the quick reach of the phone, we remain our own best spin doctors.

Who is to say that I didn't stand up to my boss in a private meeting in his office that I'm relating? No one. That's who. Who is to say that your ex-woman or boss didn't overstep her or his boundaries? No one. The friendship contract requires that no one we tell something to will go to the other party involved and challenge the story as we have related it. And yet we all know that there are secret motives behind everything and reasons why we want to be, if not the hero, at least the "good guy," the "decent person," the "wronged party" in the stories we tell.

The reason why we are our own best spin doctors is that the people that we willingly tell things to want to believe our versions. To do otherwise unmasks the charade, if there is one, pulls all of the curtains down and leaves them standing outside of our windows looking in and seeing things that they never wanted to see. And who wants that?

And, if we stepped away from these personal examples, we would find the same thing to be true. Political spin doctors only succeed with people who are hungry to believe what they have to say. The rest of us, if we aren't drinking that particular Kool-Aid, are astounded at the tales that these people try to tell us, no, not astounded, flat-out outraged as the blatantness of the lie.

But, returning to the personal, that is the beauty of friendship. I've been listening to a bunch of Joe Henry lately, and he has a song that ends, "I've never cared much what was true." That's friendship in a nutshell, isn't it? I'm not trying to suggest that any particular example is true or not; I'm simply saying that it doesn't really matter. We're going to align ourselves with the people we love against whatever outside people or forces conspire against them. Even if those people or forces don't do anything egregious at all. Even if the people we love keep spinning versions that are completely unnecessary. Because we know they do the same for us.

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