Shoot The Messenger

M. Night Shyamalan, director of the 1999 mystery-thriller, The Sixth Sense, once said in an interview that every director’s hope is to have the film achieve some type of iconic following, where lines or situations from the movie become part of American culture. He cited films like The Godfather, where the sentence, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” became forever synonymous with anyone making a serious threat. Once, when Shyamalan was playing basketball, one of his teammates threw a pass to an open spot, and another player asked, “Who were you passing to if nobody was there? Do you see dead people or something?” In that moment, he knew his film had become ingrained in the fabric of society, and had achieved a place in pop culture.

Similarly, the famous line screamed by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men remains possibly one of the most over-used today. Who can forget Tom Cruise as prosecutor Lieutenant Kaffee demanding of the defense witness, “I want the truth!” and the booming response of Nicholson as the brooding, impatient, furious Colonel Jessup, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Bending The Truth

Have you ever really thought about the truth and the way you handle it? How about the way you manipulate it and the way it manipulates you? I’ve spent a lot of time observing the phenomena related to this topic. I’ve watched toddlers, who have yet to speak, back away from a broken lamp so as not to be blamed for the accident. I’ve seen executives berate a team of employees and watched one or two of the latter step away from the group in order to separate themselves from those who should be blamed. I’ve seen puppies knock over water bowls and hide to prevent their masters from figuring out who did it. My dad was always chosen to slice the Easter ham or carve the Thanksgiving turkey, and he did so at a small table in the kitchen with his back to the dining room. When my mom asked him a question, he would chew furiously and swallow quickly so that the muted sounds of his eating did not give him away. The bottom line is we all form a rendition of the truth, and manipulate it to serve our needs.

Am I justifying white lies? Comedian Dennis Miller calls white lies “the WD-40 of life.” Without a few of those little buggers properly applied every day, there would be no way to navigate a peaceful existence. Questions that may evoke the white lie may be, “Does this dress make me look fat?” “Isn’t this the best lasagna you ever tasted?” And, “See, aren’t you glad we came?”

Some people, though, are blatantly truthful: “I hate the New York Yankees.” Some people take a stand and wish they hadn’t. “Oh, I never eat dessert–don’t like sweets.” Then they drool over your banana split instead of telling the truth, “Actually, that looks so good I’m going to get one for myself.”

Playing The Game

Some people veil the truth deliberately to get what they really want. My wife is transparently good at this. I’ll say, “Want to grab a bite for lunch?”

And she’ll say, “Sure, anywhere.”

“Oh,” I respond, “anywhere? (I’m so gullible.) How about Luchita’s?”

Her nose wrinkles. “Mexican? On a Monday? Well, if you want …”

“Oh, … n … no, no.” I see her face. “Uh, the steakhouse?”

She shrugs. “Will you be able to work all afternoon on such a big meal?”

“Oh, yeah … well … you choose,” I say.

“It doesn’t matter,” she returns. “Anything.”

“Wanna get a pizza?” I smile.

“You mean like we just had Saturday?” she says.

“Oh, yeah,” I nod. “Chinese?”

“Mm, that’s a good idea,” she’ll say, sounding surprised. “You think of everything.” And I nod, wondering why she didn’t just say, “Let’s get some Chinese food for lunch.”

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