- The young girl who committed suicide was a student, just like the audience in the lecture;
- The person who said it was a social worker, just like the students I was lecturing to want to be;
- To have lightened up the language would have lessened the shock value and that might have meant that the students might have forgotten it, repeating the mistake in their future career;
- I know that the students would hear much worse language in their practice, and
- The first time I delivered the lecture (I delivered it twice), it was the first anniversary of the young girl’s death - to the very day.
Saturday, 12 April 2014
Honesty is not the best policy
Everyone knows the old saying that “honesty is the best policy” but let’s face the honest truth and acknowledge the fact that it is, in fact, the ultimate fallacy. Oh yes, people say that they want the truth but usually when they are confronted with the plain, unvarnished truth they don’t like the result. To be quite honest with you, and I hope you realise that I have been nothing but honest with you, people would prefer to believe a comforting lie than face an inconvenient truth because being faced with the truth makes people question their assumptions, their prejudices and their worldview. And, in a lot of cases, people don’t care about the truth anyway.
Human beings are almost programmed by society to greet each other with the words “how are you?” but most don’t really want to know the truthful answer to that question so the usual response is “I’m OK, thanks” and the two people part company satisfied with a social obligation fulfilled. The fact that one or both of the parties are in the depths of a suicidal depression and desperately need someone to talk to is beside the point because neither party is willing to tell the truth. It might not be depression that’s the problem but some other crisis in their personal life, however, the result is the same.
I have gotten into trouble and caused myself no end of grief because of my point-blank honesty surrounding my views and my depression, not because the truth hurts but because people hate it when they are confronted with someone who tells the truth, no matter how distasteful that truth may be.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I tell the whole truth the whole time because that would make me a saint and no one’s a saint. I’m quite happy to tell a lie if it doesn’t cause a major problem and gets me out of a long boring explanation to relay the truth but, on the whole, I like to tell the truth because lying does nothing to further people’s understanding and, if you get caught in a lie, you look like a complete moron. I lied a lot as a kid, not because I particularly wanted to but because I was trying to fit in, make friends, be normal; the trouble is, it didn’t work and as I have gotten older the less inclined I am to want to shield people from the truth.
I have many examples of when telling the truth has gotten me into trouble or caused me grief so I thought I’d relate some to you here.
My first example comes from 2009 when I bared my soul to the attendees at the depression awareness event I had organised for my local adult college. I confessed to being a depressive in front of an audience of around 100 people in an effort to show people what suffering with depression is like. I gave two talks, one on exposing the myths surrounding depression and the other was my personal story filled with diary entries and things I had not discussed outside group therapy, as well as giving two poetry readings of my own poems. I was honest about how my depression affects me and the thoughts I’d had of euthanizing my Grandma following her stroke, thoughts I would never have acted on but thoughts I believe that most people would probably have on the odd dark day when looking after a severely incapacitated relative (out of love, not malice).
As a result of the event, I did get some really nice feedback from a few attendees but what it really did for me was make it impossible for me to hide my mental health condition from people because, if you Google my name, you’ll find me associated with depression and mental health.
It is because of not being able to hide my link to depression that I tell the truth in job interviews about why I have been out of work for so long. It would be stupid to try to lie and, as far as I’m concerned, my depression shouldn’t stop me from doing a job; in fact, days off here, there and everywhere because they’re worried about losing their job. Even without the inducement to tell the truth that being known for having depression gives me, I’d still tell the truth because I don’t see that there’s any point in lying. However, telling the truth about my condition simply causes the shutters to come down behind the eyes of prospective employers even if the interview is going well up to that point.
During my time at Your Thurrock, I wrote a lot of columns criticising the current Government’s attacking of the poor, sick and disadvantaged. Although a lot of the content was purely my opinion, I also used the Government’s own statistics on some issues when those statistics proved the relevant Secretary of State, minister or MP was lying to make their attack on the vulnerable seem reasonable. Statistics like the Department for Work and Pensions own figure of fraudulent claims making up less than 1% of the entire welfare spend despite the Secretary of State’s assertion that fraud was a major contributory factor to the huge welfare budget.
It seems though, that the right-wing critics of my columns didn’t want to listen to the truth even when it came from a source they should have considered unimpeachable. They also don’t want to accept the truth that, in one year, this current Government has caused the early deaths and suicides of 10,600 benefit claimants due to their welfare ‘reforms’. They ignore the truth of the media coverage of the highly publicised suicides of benefit claimants just because they only coverage came from left-wing or independent media sources. They ignore this information because they don’t want to hear the truth that they are wrong about their belief in the current Government.
I recently even pointed out the lies being told by Prime Minister David Cameron regarding the deficit left behind by the previous Labour administration by quoting from an article from The Huffington Post. The author of the article was a self-proclaimed Conservative Party supporter as well as an economist and yet one of my right-wing critics refused to read the truth from a fellow right-winger because the article came from The Huffington Post which he believed to be a left-wing media outlet. The truth is much more simplistic – he didn’t want to face the truth that he was wrong. He would rather believe a comforting lie than the inconvenient truth that one of his own would lie to him.
I got into long circular arguments with my right-wing critics in which I had to eventually call them morons because they ignored the truth in favour of lies and propaganda that makes them feel better. How could I possibly call them anything else? At least when someone presented me with a fact I could not dispute I would concede the point and carry on the debate.
I have, on many occasions, specifically told my critics that I am not a Socialist (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but that I support no political ideological stance. This is a fact because I support no political party and think that politics should be totally non-partisan; I also have some very right-wing views on certain issues. The truth of the matter is that, although I hold the human race in very low esteem, I also don’t like to see people being demonised, marginalised, belittled or harmed by vindictive legislation because I have a social conscience; this, however, is seen by my right-wing critics as being “a Socialist” or even “a Communist” and that is all they see rather than the truth of my political stance. It is so much easier for them to throw what I consider insults at me with regards to where they think I stand on the political spectrum than to actually read the articles I have written about the need for non-partisan politics and accept the truth. It’s a matter of pure convenience for them rather than actually accept that not only am I not a left-winger but that I may actually be imparting the truth about what’s going on.
I once put a status update on Facebook saying that I had just failed in committing suicide back in October 2010 and I was given some dirty looks from some of my ‘real’ world acquaintances who said that I did the wrong thing or that all I was doing was trying to get attention. The reality of the matter is that I was merely telling the truth – I had just tried to hang myself and failed and I felt even more of a failure than before. How could I not report the facts about my suicide attempt when I have been so open about the rest of my experiences of suffering with depression? Why should a person lie about something so important in their life? While it is true that people should be protected from harm, isn’t it also true that people should face the harsh realities of life or they get a rose-tinted spectacles view of the world that is untrue?
I used to do some associate lecturing to social work students at a local university and I was responsible for coming up with and delivering course content for a new module that was supposed to prepare the students for their work placements. We were told when we joined the project that we were there to give a true reflection of what it’s like to be a service user, to reveal the good and the bad so that the students would not make the same mistakes.
During the course of the sessions I ran between September and December 2013, I gave some lectures which included certain things that offended certain students. I was never told who the students were so I could not make amends and I have had that avenue of creative outlet and potential employment experience taken away from me. The issues that came up were, however, not put into context so were made out to be worse than they actually were and, quite frankly, were issues that the students will face when out in practice. A head lecturer and head of the involvement project actually said that I had done nothing wrong but I was still prevented from continuing with the work.
The first of the issues was that I swore in the lecture. This is entirely true, however, the word that I used, “fucking”, was a direct quote taken from a social worker who called their service user a “fucking waste of space”, which lead to the young girl’s suicide. I chose not to lighten up the language for a number of reasons:
I didn’t swear outside of the direct quoting of the social worker I was talking about.
The next incident was during a practical session dealing with how to handle service user responses. I gave the students a scenario based on a real life conversation I had with a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder who stated that she became a nymphomaniac during her periods of mania and that she slept with a cast of millions during such periods. The scenario was presented as a ‘how would you deal with an over-amorous service user and I lightened the mood with a joke, an adaptation of the old joke that your sex life dies as soon as you get married. With hindsight, it could have been considered as inappropriate, but it is also, again, tame considering the things the students will hear in their practice because they will have to deal with people with sexual problems and relationship problems so, although it was a joke, there was a serious point behind it too.
The last incident came from a session in which I said that I had attempted suicide in the past and probably will again. Both statements are true and you can really only have a go at me for bringing it up out of the blue – I brought it up as part of a whole day’s worth of mini lectures on mental health during a discussion of self-harm and suicide. If my duty is to give the students a taste of what it’s really like to be a service user it would be remiss of me to tell them anything but the truth in this situation. I didn’t give anyone the impression that I was about to whip out a knife in front of them and off myself and I told them the facts without the emotion you would expect of a suicidal person because I was not suicidal at the time. How are the students who complained going to be able to work in the sector if they are so easily offended?
It is the job of an educator to tailor the content being delivered to be appropriate to the audience receiving it and, in that respect, I did my job. The audience were adults and potential social workers; as potential social workers, they should not put themselves in a career in which they will be faced with offensive words, situations and people and as adults they should realise that the career they are going into will involve that kind of problem.
The university said that they wanted the students to be told the reality of the service user experience but it seems that when the truth is revealed to the students, the university would rather accept the lies told by the books and academics than accept the inconvenient truth that the people the potential social workers will be working with will not be of the tea and cucumber sandwich brigade; they will also have service users who will be foul-mouthed or abusive or have sexual or relationship problems that they may find offensive. Perhaps they should face the truth and grow up.
Finally, I’m sure I will get into a load of trouble from people because I have informed some people that I am going to attempt suicide again this weekend. I have not done so to make them feel bad or to get some attention, I have done so because there are some people out there who I know care about me and I don’t want to disappear from their lives without letting them know how much they mean to me. I’d hate them to find out about my death, if I’m successful, and have them have a doubt in their mind about whether they could have done anything to stop me or worse thought that they may have been part of the reason I tried. I also wouldn’t want the same doubts to crop up in their minds because I just disappeared and they never found out about my death. The inconvenient truth in this case is that it’s better to cause a little pain now than the greater pain not knowing would cause later. Critics would probably say that it’s better to say nothing at all but that would just be tantamount to lying and I care about what damage I do and wish to limit it as much as possible.
It seems though that the old saying is wrong because, to tell the truth, honesty is not the best policy; you’re better off lying and giving yourself an easy life.