La Tour Eiffel:

I notice and appreciate any kind of advertising that credits consumers with being able to react and respond to cleverness and wit. Especially when use of language (not just catchy music or jingles) involves more creativity than just repetitive slogans. There’s a popular clothing company, brick and mortar and (of course) online that has adopted a phrase that the French would call a “double entendre” —  double-meaning in English. The phrase is in fact in French, “Bien Fait”, and can translate as ‘well-made’ or ‘well-done’ (as in an accomplishment, not a piece of meat). Bien Fait is clever because it implies that the clothing and accessories made by the company are of quality. But it also slyly compliments the purchaser on her taste in selecting whatever item(s) from the company.

Golden Gate Bridge:

Which got me thinking recently, how important, yet how rare positive recognition can be in our society. I’m speaking specifically of Life in California, which I’ll acknowledge may not be similar to Life anywhere else on planet Earth – in terms of our social interactions. In fairness to my home state, however, this phenomenon may actually be more of a Big City affliction. I think of it as an affliction because, very often, there’s a deliberate effort in our personal interactions as well as professions to refrain from too much positive affirmation. Compliments. Praise. Recognition. Aside from promotions and pay bumps, how often do people in positions of power extend meaningful ‘kudos’:  eye contact, a smile, a handshake or pat on the shoulder; a Thank You ?

I have colleagues who, for one reason or another, have been unable to find employment in the field of organizational consulting or human resources in California. But other states in the U.S. are more than happy to hire them. These other states have lured my friends with higher salaries and better benefits. But more importantly, my erstwhile colleagues report feeling enthusiastically welcomed and treated like rare professional “gems” by companies outside of California.

Closer to home, I’ve observed that in both personal and professional settings, many people are almost hyper- judicious in their praise and gratitude for hard work. Why is this? We’ll “gush” over a new baby or a new puppy, but perhaps not so enthusiastically recognize a fellow human who creates or receives a standout moment in his or her life. Are we jealous? Are we in the belief that offering recognition or praise somehow compromises our own ‘standing’, in relationship to the person who’s experienced a triumph? Do we let our egos get in the way, when someone deserves and would really flourish with a “Well-done!”  from us?

I’m often in a hurry and distracted by my various projects. I’ll admit that I have to make a conscious effort to slow down, make eye-contact, and offer authentic gratitude and praise to those who make my life easier; and to those who’ve accomplished meaningful growth or tasks, large or small, in or outside of my immediate purview. I can see what a difference a simple “nod” can make, in the way even strangers’ faces light up; their shoulders relax, and they smile. They feel, for a second, connected and included through their value. Bien Fait.

Today, while doing some profession – related reflection on Groups and Group behaviors, I caught myself wrestling with (yet) another erroneous belief. It’s a kind of stereotype-thinking, I suppose, and yet it isn’t. Here’s my problem:  I want to believe; I need to believe that collectives of well-trained and well-educated people share certain important attributes. For example, “All teachers like children”; or, “All financial advisors are honest”; or, All doctors are appropriately knowledgeable.”  My rational mind knows that these statements are sometimes, but not always, true. But there’s an ideal in there somewhere, isn’t there? There’s an expectation that (looking at my own first career) someone who dislikes kids would never choose to become a teacher of children. I mean, why would they? Right? Not so much.

So it was, when I was engaged in group work recently that I had to explore this need I have to trust in a certain ‘standard’ of behavior. Silly, I know. Years of education and training don’t mean that we’re no longer hampered by the Ego’s evil twins:  vanity and insecurity. In fact, sometimes the more elevated we become (with our own accomplishments and academic pedigrees), the more vulnerable we are to The Twins.

Collaborating in groups or teams…more expansively, coming together in any kind of relationship where personal and mutual goals are exposed and in plain view…creates a natural push-pull of ideas, needs, desires, and hopes for satisfaction. We all know that, in such instances, effective communication is key. But what if you’re involved with someone who can’t, or won’t talk, let alone express authentic feelings? What if that ‘someone’ sends emails and texts, but avoids actual conversation? And, finally, what if that person is someone you know has ‘both oars in the water’, and so is fully capable of hashing things out without undue ‘drama’?

Nowhere is it written that we all have to adhere to The Golden Rule in relationships. The Truth is (in my experience), that someone within the relationship has to take the lead in keeping interactions in a higher-energy place. It’s not fair; it’s not fun  — especially if you’re The One always reaching for harmony and a productive outcome. But taking the high-road is expedient, and satisfying even if the other person (or people) doesn’t / don’t ‘rise’ according to our expectations and our desires. “At the end of the day…”, when your head relaxes into your pillow and you review how you handled yourself in a situation like this, you’ll rest easier. And, if you’re the one who looked for the nearest Exit when someone asked you to ‘engage’ fully and truthfully, tomorrow’s another chance to get it right.

Why do people lie? (Rhetorical question, bear with me.)

“I never got your project in my email.”  Yeah, I think you did; I requested a Read Receipt.

“My wife has no clue because I’m such a good actor, but I am so checked out of our marriage.” Trust me:  on some level, she knows.

“Í didn’t eat the last (fill in the blank).” Ok, so it’s you, me and the cat. Has he learned how to open the ‘fridge?

When my son was still a toddler, he thought that by covering his own eyes, he’d be invisible to everyone else in the family. So if he wanted to “hide”, he’d just put his little hands up in front of his face, like the game of peek-a-boo we play with babies. A cloak of immunity (he loved to pull all of the clean linen out of the closet and spread it around the hallway) from discovery and accountability.

Today I was reflecting – as I’m sneaking up on another birth day this month – on the many wonderful ways that age brings not only wisdom of self-knowledge, but common sense. This week, however, I was confronted by both the first and second statements above, made by people who are actually older than I am. So, denial and obfuscation – let’s just call it what it is, dishonesty – is obviously not the sole territory of the young and foolish. Anyone looking for a back door, an escape clause or hatch, a way to be invisible can deploy lying. Lies can be big or small, but they’re all about avoiding exposure. But ‘exposure’ to what? I thought back, to that feeling…

The first professional job I had in my first career (Education) was a high school teacher. I was thrilled to have the job, but apprehensive about being so close in age to my students (I was only 23, and they were between 16 – 18 years old). Despite having graduated from college and having several credentials “under my belt”, I feared being called-out as a fraud. What did that mean? To me, it meant being appraised, and found lacking. Knowledge; poise; maturity; skill:  missing from my repertoire.

I survived my first year of teaching, but learned some hard lessons about being truthful and humble (I told my students I had more experience than I actually did at the time). They learned otherwise.

Why do we lie, or, my favorite, not tell the whole truth in certain situations? As I noted above, this is really a question that most of us know the answer to:  to avoid the nasty consequences we know are coming if we tell the truth about ‘whatever’. The problem with lying, however (unless there’s some kind of pathology in operation), is twofold:  first, the lie seeps into our beliefs about ourselves and almost always causes even more fear and self-doubt; and second, lies tend to proliferate because they become easier to tell.

The man who told me about his clueless wife is totally depressed and wakes exhausted, most mornings at 3 a.m. The woman who told me she didn’t receive my project (despite my receipt that she’d at least opened my email) is developing a growing reputation as a “flake”.

I’m not holding myself above anyone who has lied, or attempted to avoid being exposed by saying nothing or providing only a partial truth. I’m just thinking about what this feels like in our hearts:  when we engage in deception, or when we become aware that we’re on the receiving end of a lie. It doesn’t feel good. It always comes out, in one way or another. The dis-ease of lying is corrosive. How much better to come from a place of Truth, shout or whisper your Mea Culpa, and ask for forgiveness?