WHERE'S DIOGENES WHEN WE NEED HIM?
Remember him? The founder of Cynical Philosophy, he was called "Diogenes the Cynic" and lived in Greece from 412 to 323 BC. Ancient Greek writings credit Diogenes with the famous search for an "honest man" which he conducted in broad daylight, carrying a lighted lantern. Evidently, he never found one.
I'm not Diogenes, nor was meant to be; I'm not even a cynic, but it sure would be great to run into an "honest man" - or woman - out there, wouldn't it? But they seem to be no where to be found... in politics, business, many of our venerable institutions, or even in life. Of course, maybe my definition of "honest" is too severe: "To say what you mean and mean what you say." Part of the problem it seems, is actually saying it. There are so many times when I'm watching the news that I'll almost shout at the TV screen, "Will you just stop beating around the bush and say what you mean for God's sake?" A good friend of mine was pretty worked up the other day about the phrase one hears over and over, particularly in media interviews with politicians, but just as often in informal conversations. You've heard it a million times: "I don't disagree with you..." People say it sort of matter-of-factly with a phony half smile on their faces. "Well, wait," one longs to reply, "are you saying you actually agree with me or are you saying you neither agree nor disagree, like maybe you have no opinion? Or are you saying you have an opinion but you don't want to say what it is? Or are you just trying to flimflam me or....?"
"Flimflamming" is rampant. The dictionary defines "flimflam" as "a trick or deception, especially a swindle or a confidence game, involving skillful persuasion or clever manipulation of the 'victim'...a piece of nonsense, twaddle, bosh." (I like the "twaddle" part.) Flimflamming can come in a lot of verbal guises. The "good ol' boy"routine: "C'mon, you know me! Would I lie to you?!" and the "I wasn't there" routine: "I have absolutely no knowledge of the incident you're speaking of..." are pretty common.
Sometimes the "flimflam" shows up as simply not wanting to hear the bad news - so you won't have to "know" about it or take any action - or be blamed. According to recent reports on the investigation of GM's deadly "ignition switch defect," the automaker's culture of "good news only" helped to foster that very attitude. Another typical "flimflam" routine: The "Of course, we should address this!" but no one's assigned to the task, was rampant at GM. The CEO, Mary Barra describes it as "The GM Nod." Here's how it worked: In a typical meeting, all participants would nod in agreement that action should be taken and then no one would do anything. Another interesting twist on the "GE flimflam" is what Anton Valukas, the investigator who compiled the scathing report on the debacle, described as "the GM Salute" - a "crossing of the arms that point outward towards others, indicating the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me." He added that "No single person owned any decision."
Imagine the field day Diogenes would have with those characters. Imagine his cynicism building minute by minute like plaque - plaque that even his "lighted lantern" couldn't permeate. He'd probably take to his couch with a stiff cup of hemlock.
Okay, a truly honest person is tough to find. Really tough. But not impossible. Maybe you're one. Maybe you know another one. And maybe they'll know somebody else. But here's what I know: Being cynical about it won't help. Assuming that people are dishonest jerks, won't help. Keep looking for the honest ones. And when you find one - shake their hand, slap them on the back, send an email to congratulate them...or vote for them. Maybe that will foster more.
It's not over, Diogenes. You've got us. Bring your lantern. But leave your cynicism behind.
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