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The Cost of Spin for Parents, Business & Kings

I’ve blogged about this before: my angle was that whilst some promote a false reality through advertising or social media, many more people measure themselves against it. Whether the impact on individuals’ wellbeing causes a smattering of depression or a street riot is perhaps food for thought. When I came across this article Making a Case for More Candor… from PE Hub the part about parenting was especially pertinent.

After I had my children I understood why some people are so solicitous to pregnant women. In my innocence I had thought it was because they were overwhelmed by the miracle of life (I also thought this was rather odd). I have long since found out it was mere sympathy for the lifetime of trials ahead.

It has become evident, very few people tell the truth about parenthood; least of the many of the parents who admitted as such to mumsnet in a survey last year.
‘Oh no, little Lavinia only has 15 minutes of tv/computer/gaming a day…’

Anyway, the article is based on a conversation with a neuroscientist called Sam Harris whose essay ‘Lying’ is available on Kindle. Here’s an extract

Q: In Silicon Valley, many companies depend on spin to get from one financing round to the next, or one customer win to another. Is that so terrible?

A: There are so many costs to a culture of spin. It’s kind of a situation of mutually assured destruction, where you have this arms race of good news, and the price you pay for being candid about your missteps or problems on the horizon is that everyone will turn to your competitor — who will be busy lying about what’s happening on their side.

So the price is high. Yet the fact that we know everyone is spinning builds cynicism to the point where people are pricing in the possibility of people’s deception.

Q: What’s the case for people to change their behavior?

A: There’s a real power to simply being honest in a context where many people are so often dancing around the truth. There’s an integrity that comes with that, even if the reward for having integrity isn’t always immediate.

Steve Jobs came out and told people how sick he was [and Apple shares never nosedived]. Meanwhile, people can lose a tremendous amount of money when CEOs are deceptive where they can be.

Another aspect to spin to keep in mind: When people don’t have good information about reality, they think their difficulties are theirs alone. Take the culture of spin around parenthood and motherhood. We had our first child 2.5 years ago, and while obviously, people complain about being parents, most people tend to conceal a lot of the details about just how hard the experience is, beginning with the delivery. So you can think: Why is this happening to me? You’re isolated in your stress when people aren’t giving you good information

It’s nothing new though. People have been spinning the yarn for perhaps as long as people have been around. Take this example in art (self-promotion for Charles I) by Van Dyck.

e.g. From this subtle study of a horse

To this: The Divine Right of Kings

Switching it all off

Isn’t that a state of nirvana – turning off the chattering brain?

When you get to your middle age you realise how much more knowledge you had when you were younger, but is that knowledge of much use?  Well yes, it is in in a way in the role of a tutor where people are expecting to come to you to be told about things that they don’t and (presumably want) to know.   But I find the job of learning and teaching is more interesting and I believe enduring if you can signpost the destination and give people the guidebooks,maps, games and discussions to take their own path.  Show don’t tell and all that.

But setting aside that role in life, how much does the knowledge of stuff get in the way of the pure appreciation of expression.  Quite a lot it seems.  Yesterday I tried to find a piece of art I didn’t know about (including the artist), didn’t represent anything immediately identifiable and meant nothing to me other than what I saw in the moment.  It was pretty hard.  It would have been easier if I was 6 again.  Then I thought more about knowledge as stories and realised that pictures I had much liked when I was younger were actually only of interest to me because of the knowledge or story I knew about the subject.  For example, I was much in the habit of looking at this at the National Gallery in my early 20s.

but now I come to think about it, I was not admiring the art, or thinking about the colours or the composition or even the artist.  I was applying my knowledge of Charles I’s absolute belief in the divine right of Kings, considering the weakness of his chin, albeit covered with a beard, and wondering how such a piece of triumphal self-promotion could go so badly awry that he would end up with his head rolling around in a basket a few years later.

I was involved primarily in an intellectual pursuit: considering Charles I and his general deluded state and not really looking at the art at all.  The picture was purely a vehicle for my prior knowlege.  Perhaps the picture was only a piece of 17th century marketing and I was therefore engaging with it for its originally intended purpose in any case.  Perhaps Van Dyck would finish his morning cup of small beer, cursing the fact he was going to have to go and continue painting an impossibly full-chested horse and a pointy-chinned king after breakfast again (this was all before he became a Hollywood actor and painted pavements for Mary Poppins you understand).

I don’t know what Dick or Charles thought really, but what I do know is I don’t actually like that picture now at all.  So, tastes change people say.  Well maybe, but I still retain my childhood dislike of Brussels sprouts and porridge so maybe pure dislike stays with us, and the time I spent in front of that enormous canvas was merely a mental cul-de-sac I was lured up by my history lessons.

What I was purely visually drawn to at the time was the way Rembrandt painted the dark silks of an old woman’s dress.  Looking at this image now I think I would like to go back and look at how he has painted the 83 year old skin (I have no technical knowledge of painting which might interfere).  At the time I didn’t know anything about the woman, or Rembrandt or the Dutch Masters.  I am wondering if it is better for my soul to keep it that way.