WHERE’S DIOGENES WHEN WE NEED HIM?
Remember him? He’s the guy who founded “Cynical Philosophy.” He was actually 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 that he peered over with bright, suspicious eyes.
He never found one.
I’m not Diogenes, nor was meant to be; and I’m definitely not a cynic, but it sure would be great to run into an “honest man” – or woman – out there, wouldn’t it? But the problem is, they seem to be in pretty short supply… in politics, in business, in many of our venerable institutions and in well, life.
Maybe my definition of “honest” is too severe: “To say what you mean and mean what you say – and then act on it.” Part of the problem it seems, is actually saying it. There are so many times when I’m watching the news that I almost shout at the TV screen, “Will you just stop beating around the bush and say what you mean for God’s sake?” “Or, are you out of your mind?! That’s exactly the opposite of what you said last week!” (I think the current term for that is “The Pivot.”)
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 almost 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 that 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…” And a current favorite: “Hey, you learned about this before I did!”
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.
Do you remember in 2014, when General Motors recalled its small cars due to faulty ignition switches, that could shut off the engine during driving and prevent the airbags from inflating? The company recalled nearly 30 million cars worldwide and paid compensation for 124 deaths.
Here’s the thing: The “fault” had been known to GM for at least a decade prior to the recall. But they didn’t want to talk about it. The automaker’s culture of “good news only” wouldn’t allow it. And then there was the ultimate “flimflam” routine: “Of course, we should address this!” but then no one’s assigned to the task. Mary Barra who was and still is, described 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 “GM flimflam” is what Anton Valukas, who was 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 that the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me.” He added that “No single person owned any decision.”
It’s not exactly dishonest. But it’s definitely not honest...
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. Hey, maybe you’re one. And maybe you know another one. And maybe that person will 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.
So keep looking for the honest ones. And when you find one – shake their hand, slap them on the back, send an email (and copy others) to congratulate (and positively reinforce) them.
Or, I know: Vote for them. Maybe that will help breed more.
Hey, it’s not over, Diogenes. You’ve got us. We’re looking. Hard. And when we find them – and we will – we’ll celebrate them.
You know what? I’ve got to get hold of a really good lantern…