Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dishonesty and Duplicitousness

These two phenomena, dishonesty and duplicitousness, are related – different pews in the same church if you will. First let’s look at them individually.

Dishonesty – both by commission and omission – “is a word which in common usage may be defined as the act or to act without honesty; a lack of probity, to cheat, lying or being deliberately deceptive; lacking in integrity; to be knavish, perfidious, corrupt or treacherous; charlatanism or quackery.” In a recent issue of Meridian Magazine, the following insightful considerations were offered: “The value for this month is honesty. We define this value as: truthfulness with other individuals, with institutions, with society, with self; the inner strength and confidence that is bred by exacting truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity.”

In my 2003 pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway, Chapter Eight, “Living Life, Honestly,” begins with some interesting (and humorous) discourse on honesty. Here is that opening paragraph:

Healthy people tend to strongly agree on the importance of being honest, especially being honest with oneself. Likewise, healthy people tend to think of themselves as being honest (especially with themselves). However, the next time you tell someone or yourself that you are an honest person, ask yourself (privately of course) if you are open, fair, and truthful about things in your life, and especially yourself. To illustrate, I recently was chatting with one of my graduate students during a class break, and as time went on we found ourselves discussing the importance of self-honesty. In the course of our conversation, he made the statement, “I’m honest all the time, with myself and others.” I didn’t say a word, I just looked at him. A few seconds later, while looking back at me, he said, “Okay, almost all the time.” I just continued to look at him. He continued to look back at me. Then he said, with a wry smirk, “Okay, most of the time.” I just continued to look at him. He just continued to look back. Then he said, “Okay, more than half the time, and that’s as far as I will go.” Instantly, both of us burst out into good old, hearty belly laughs, and when our laughing ceased, I said to him with a most somber and serious face, “I’m honest all the time.” And within two nanoseconds, the big belly laughs returned. (p. 62)

“Duplicity” is a term denoting more than one – typically, two. Thus, if someone is living a duplicitous lifestyle – engaging in duplicitousness – then to some extent he or she is living two lives or “is not living life as a whole.” At such times, moreover, the individual is not being honest with himself or herself, as well as meaningful others in their lives. For example, in my latest contemporary romance novel, If Ever Again…. It’ll be for Love, Diane, a single mom with of a five-year old daughter, meets and starts dating Michael. As time marches on, their relationship starts to get serious. Nonetheless, she understandably does not want her daughter, Becca, “to get hurt if the relationship doesn’t work out,” so she hides her relationship from her daughter. After some time, however, Dane begins to feel guilty about being dishonest with Becca and she begins to feel uncomfortable with herself – because she is being dishonest with herself and living a duplicitous lifestyle.

I have a good friend – divorced, in his early fifties and lives in Tama – who currently is experiencing the ills of duplicitousness. He is romantically involved with a delightful woman. Yet because he is afraid of what his three children may think and how they may feel about him, he has been “hiding that part of his life from them.” I have no doubt that eventually he will either stop seeing his girlfriend or tell his children about her – philosophically and emotionally speaking, it’s eating him up!

Question: Have you or anyone close to you ever struggled with duplicitousness?



Miss Frou Frou said...

Dr Bill - Boomerang Boy, mentioned often on my blog, was the King of Duplicitousness in his relationship with me... an emotional attachment he continued, even though we didn't physically see each other, even after he married... and it took me a long time to realise he enjoyed having 2 separate lives... and he had no intention of ever combining the two... he gots off on the secrecy and the possible risks involved. I didn't - and we barely speak now.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Miss Frou Frou,
Glad to have you stop by and offer your experience and observations
I only can imagine the Angst involved when in a relationship that is a separate part of the person’s life. Nonetheless, there is a difference between a “normal” (“healthy” may be a more accurate term) engaging in a temporary or situational duplicitous involvement AND a person with a personality disorder whereby duplicitous involvements is a lifestyle. From what you say, it sounds like Booerang Boy was more the latter. The important thing is that you recognized it and took appropriate action.
Hang in there (not all men are that way… and neither are women – it’s a human phenomenon not a gender phenomenon).
I hope you visit again…

Misa said...

I see duplicitousness as a negative term (while I see your examples as people struggling with a secret, though they have good intentions, as more ambiguous). I know of someone who, while married with children, had two year relationship with another woman. To me this is duplicitous. It may be that my perspective is skewed since the situation I'm referring to was very hurtful to many, many people. Once you have a perspective or slant on a word/definition, it's hard to shake it, I think!

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I definitely used to struggle with those issues... and now I am trying to bank some good karma :) I prefer to live with integrity and avoid all the feelings that come with being dishonest.... I used to live a much more hedonistic & self-destructive lifestyle, which came with some pretty heavy consequences.... so now I try to think before I act, think before I speak...and learn from my past mistakes. I prefer to behave in a way that does not need to involve
dishonesty....although sometimes small lies are necessary to avoid conflict and hurt. I sleep better at night these days :) I think I can safely say to others as well as myself that I am truthful, open, and fair. I guess in this context I am a "healthy" person? Healthy seems as ambiguous to me as "normal".

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Given the nature of the examples I used and of course the vivid memory of the hurtful effects of the experience you share, duplicitousness easily could be viewed as a negative phenomenon (and hard to shake). One of the major issues I was trying to convey, nonetheless, was that even if the “other, non-shared life experience” were a good thing (e.g., a second, part-time job to make more money for the family), it’s still not a mentally healthy thing to do. Simply said, living life as one Gestalt, as a whole entity, is a mentally healthy. Thus, the experience you shared was not only not good for the family (especially the wife and children), it wasn’t good for the person doing it either.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your experience and perspective,

Hello MHT,
It indeed sounds like you’ve been down that road and have the t-shirt and scars to prove it. I’m happy for you… you’ve turned that corner.
Regarding your last statement – “Healthy seems as ambiguous to me as ‘normal’" – the terms healthy and normal, while used by most people interchangeably, are not the same thing. For example, given the rise in mental illness in the United States over the past few years, it could be argued that “being healthy” is becoming “less and less normal.”
Glad you stopped by and shared you personal growth and movement toward a healthy lifestyle!

Misa said...

You're right, Bill. Self-dishonesty is such a destructive way to live. I completely understand that fact. Now that I think about it more, I've been surrounded by people with duplicitous natures or people living duplicitously, but in ways that are so naturally ingrained in them that it's hard to distinguish which side of the line they are on at any given moment. Without delving too deeply into it, we have family members who behave one way when they're with you and behave completely differently when you're not around (so we're told, anyway) and the intent of the change is supposedly well-intentioned, but we've (my husband and I, along with a few others) have come to see it as a means to 'self-elevate' by bringing someone else down. Does that make any sense?! Anyway, my point is that sometimes, when we're engrossed in living our lives and involved so deeply with the people around us, we are unable to see the true or duplicitous nature that's carefully constructed. When you are able to step back and look more objectively, it can be shocking to find out what motivates people to do and say and act the way they do. The really interesting part of observing people you are close to or have been close to is seeing how completely they believe their intentions, even as they are cutting someone off at the knees! Interesting topic, Bill. You always make me think!!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Misa,
Wow, this indeed seems to be an issue in your family and some friends as well. (I’ve occasionally seen it in my family as well.) However, I think the reason why you (and your husband) no longer arte scathed by it is because you think… “The life unexamined is not worth living.”
It could be argued, as you somewhat suggest, that duplicity is a ego defense mechanism; I can see that argument. However, it also can become a lifestyle. For example, if I’m sad or depressed because someone close to me died, having a few single malts over ice may not be a bad thing. However, doing it every afternoon and evening is a different thing.
Again, thanks for the compliment – I’m delighted that the Post facilitated further/helpful thinking for you,

Nienke Hinton said...

I think there are some healthy forms of duplitousness in life. For example, I keep my work writing life and personal/fiction writing life separate from each other. I also keep my personal life fairly estranged from my blog. However, I suppose the difference is that I choose to keep them separate although I won't totally hide them from each other. It's not a secret, just a caution.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Nienke,
Thanks for your insightful observation. In some ways it comes down to terminology and what is meant by it. For example, what you accurately describe as “healthy duplitousness” I refer to as “bifurcation” and/or “boundary-setting.” The big difference being, as you pointed out, is that when it is “healthy” it is consciously planned and designed for functional reasons, carefully considered and evaluated. With duplitousness, however, the person typically isn’t even aware that they are doing it (and tend to get defensive when someone calls their attention to it). Misa indirectly addressed this phenomenon as well.
Thanks, Nienke – you surfaced an important consideration, especially in terms of ultimately living a mentally healthy life.
‘til next time,