Status: Etiquette advice
Miss Manners recently tackled the question of whether it's better to be honest (and unpleasant) or to be fake-nice. A correspondent asked her
: How can one deal (correct word?) with nice people, saying "all the right things," without meaning any of it? It's just been driving me crazy as it seems to be occurring more and more.
Miss Manners responded that it would be a disaster if people were always brutally honest:
This is not an affliction, Miss Manners assures you. It is a blessing. For the last several decades, people have been saying all the wrong things that they really mean, from "I can't use this" instead of "Thank you" for a present; "Only a moron would think that" instead of "I'm afraid we disagree" in a political discussion and "You've put on a lot of weight" instead of "How nice to see you" on seeing an acquaintance. If they are learning to say the right thing, good for them. In time, they will learn to say it more convincingly.
Along these same lines, in The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life
, Ralph Keyes points out the extent to which being fake-nice is the socially accepted thing to do:
How often do we lie and get lied to? All sorts of figures get bandied about. I've seen estimates that range from two hundred times a day to once. One study concluded that we tell thirteen lies a week on the average. Another found that some form of deception occurs in nearly two-thirds of all conversations. If this sounds far-fetched, bear in mind that the most frequent lie of all is "Fine" (in response to the question "How are you?"). This fib is so ubiquitous that deception researcher Bella DePaulo excused subjects from recording it in records they kept of every lie they told in a week's time.
I definitely agree that most of the time it's better to be fake nice. If I ask someone how they're doing, I don't really want to hear about their bad back and ingrown toenail. But on the other hand, I think Miss Manners needs to provide some guidance for those cases in which fake happiness goes too far. For instance, my wife used to have a constantly upbeat co-worker whose favorite expression was "Yayyyyy!" She managed to use that word a couple times every hour: "That's Great! Yayyy!.... Awesome! Yayyyy!" My wife had to listen to this constant stream of peppiness all day. Not to be cynical, but surely there must come a point when it becomes socially acceptable to subject such people to various forms of medieval torture?
March 17, 2006: Fake Smiles May Cause Depression