The Great Way is very smooth, but people love the by-paths.
— Lao Tzu
Most of us do not consciously choose our false-self identity and thereby engage in self-destructive behavior. If we learned more about why and how we give energy to these unhealthy behavior patterns, we might then consider shifting our worldview. In the context of P-B many human actions are self-destructive, toxic, painful and curiously unavoidable; unavoidable, that is, so long as we continue to choose the reactions that support that narrative and its related identity. Why is that?
You might not like the answer to this question but all movement toward an equanimous life begins with the truth. Most of us have unconsciously chosen the belief that we live in an unfriendly Universe which means that much of our energy is expressed in fear-driven behaviors. Since many of us have chosen P-B as our worldview our identity is in part a grotesque image with fake laughter, and we are creatures engaging in disingenuous deception including a lot of lying. The people we have become resemble robots going through the motions of life alienated from our “best” selves, our True selves.
Let’s begin with the “fake laughter” of the false self which is a reaction to what someone else said or did. “You’ll probably notice that, more often than not, the laughter is in response to something that wasn’t very funny—or wasn’t funny at all. Observational studies suggest this is the case 80 to 90 percent of the time.”[i]
To our Paleolithic ancestors the laugh was probably used to signal to another cave man “Relax, I’m not going to kill you.” It has since evolved into a much more complex pattern of facial expressions and body language. Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London studies how the brain produces and processes laughter. “You think it’s so simple. It’s just jokes and ha-ha but laughter is really sophisticated and complicated.”[ii]
Like drinking and smoking in a group, laughter can be social lubrication, but the dark side of the false self is always present and expressing itself. “Darker manifestations include dismissive laughter, which makes light of something someone said sincerely, and derisive laughter, which shames.”[iii]
We have all had the experience of the half-hearted, uneasy laugh explained by Jane Yates, a psychoanalyst who teaches at Emory University Psychoanalytic Institute. “Laughter is often a defense that conceals a painful or unwanted feeling.”[iv] Laughter, in other words can be both self-protective and therapeutic.
Is there no healthy laughter? Yes, and we can tell the difference if we pay attention. Because a genuine, spontaneous laugh produces endorphins and is a response as opposed to a reaction, we “feel” that we are in the present moment and behaving authentically. On the other hand, fake laughter is an emotional reaction, it saps our energy and does not feel good.
Greg Bryant, a cognitive psychologist who studies laughter vocalizations and interpretation found that the average person is good at faking laughter. It is a common behavioral skill of the false self. “It’s like when people say, ‘I’m not a good liar,’ but everyone is a good liar if they have to be.”[v] Which brings us to the second false-self pseudo-skill that most of us can’t stop.
Moving on, we look at another form of lying called being “two-faced,” a skill readily found in the hallowed halls of Congress. Any politician (off the record of course) will admit that every representative of the people has to do it to access power. Well, maybe, before we continue to blame Washington for all of our problems let’s have the courage to look more closely at an ugly reality. Virtually all of us are two-faced hypocrites. We all have a false self and lying or mis-representing our true feelings and/or beliefs is often necessary to function and indeed to even survive in P-B. So relax, we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances. Buuuuut, we could do much better if we began to make better choices. Once we understand the false self and how and why it expresses as it does, we can begin to dismantle those conditioned behaviors and shift the energy of our expression to our True-self.
Why do politicians insist on closed-door sessions and engage in disingenuous communication also known as telling bald-face lies? Political scientist Colleen J. Shogan put that question to a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director. “Why should we do it in the open? It would wreck the seriousness of the purpose. Staff needs to give candid views to senators, and you can’t do that in open session. Governing in the sunshine shouldn’t be applied to everything.”[vi]
For example, we have this closer look at what politicians would agree is a necessary evil. “Behind closed doors, negotiators can float trial balloons and make tacit offers—deniably. They can say things like, ‘This isn’t an offer mind you, but just hypothetically, what if I were to suggest we could accept a Medicare cut if you could accept a capital-gains tax increase? If you show hypothetical interest in my hypothetical offer, I can go and try it out on my caucus and constituents. If you wave me off—well, no offer was ever made, so I’m not embarrassed.”[vii]
Before we all become self-righteous and attack our favorite scapegoat, those Washington politicians, perhaps we should engage in a little self-examination. We might think that we are not two-faced hypocrites displaying one face in one arena of our lives and a different “mask” or persona in another. “But maintaining separate public and private faces is something we all do every day. We tell annoying relatives we enjoyed their visits, thank inept waiters for rotten service, and agree with bosses who we know are wrong.”[viii]
Perhaps the Japanese are being more honest and practical when they openly admit that they practice two-faced behavior and believe it to be a good thing. The word “Honne” meaning “true sound” is for the truth or what they really believe. “Tatemae” meaning “façade” is their term for the public face. “Using honne when tatemae is called for is considered not bravely honest but rude and antisocial, and rightly so. Unnecessary and excessive directness hurts feelings, foments conflict and complicates co-existence.”[ix]
We are perhaps loath to admit that fake laughing and lying are a public good and a political necessity, but they probably are as long as we insist on perpetuating P-B. Until we are willing to consider creating a radically different narrative for our community, we are stuck with an identity that continues to behave in ways that do not feel right somehow.
[i] Murphy, Kate. “The Science of the Fake Laugh.” The New York Times. October 23, 2016, page 4.
[vi] Rauch, Jonathan. “Why Hillary Clinton Needs to Be Two-Faced.” The New York Times. October 23, 2016, page 4.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.