While planning summer reading this year, I remembered an old ice breaking game that I’ve used with great success. Called “3 truths and a lie”, it’s a standard of awkward party situations. In a group where the participants really don’t know each other, it works delightfully– both the truths and the lie reveal a bit of the person to the room (in an age of LOL & emojis — the girls say it’s 2 truths & a lie).
For example, I could say:
I met Timothy Leary, and had a lovely conversation with him.
I began study to be a thoracic surgeon
I did comedy gigs in bars
I have never voted for a Republican
What do you think? Any guesses? For me, this game has always been a bit challenging in that to everyone (including my kids) I’m the worst liar in the world. Couple that with imagining everyone has really cool stories, so I believe them all — in short, I really suck at the game.
Evaluating the game for work, I started paying attention to other stories and random facts that connected to the game’s premise – telling truth from lies and trusting the source. Both NPR and an online “news” site ran provocative stories. In the first, social scientists had studied opinions regarding men’s and women’s ‘crime & punishment’. In what the researchers posited was some throwback to the “angel of the home” mentality, if a woman committed a crime she was punished with a sanction far harsher than a man guilty of the same offense. In other words, the line a woman crosses to commit a crime is far less nuanced, and the distance between wrong & right is more like a cliff than a line in the sand.
Bearing that in mind, the subsequent story didn’t surprise me particularly – between the angel stereotype noted above, and its bad girl inverse – Western society has rather polarized opinions on women. Using surveys, interviews and pop culture, the report concluded quite simply, that men don’t trust women. One of the explanations rationalized by the results argued that women use “powertalk” (a nice way of saying coercion) to make men malleable. Think of most sit-coms. The inept but lovable man is at the mercy of his smarter, more determined wife who relentlessly drags him into one situation after another.
Tracing a few of the analyses of this article – I fell into a rabbit hole of misogyny. Aside from really wanting to shower off the crudeness, I was appalled by the sheer malevolence expressed. Not surprised, but OMG it’s the 21st century. As a mother of daughters, I have taught them to be impeccable with their word, to be honorable and to believe that equality and fairness are both desired and attainable. I have argued against dress codes that swath girls as young as kindergarten, so boys won’t get the wrong idea. I have given them the “how to be safe” speech, and hope boys are getting the “don’t rape” one too. Yet even the legal system offers excuses for “a fine young man with a bright future” versus an intoxicated, unconscious woman – why? One of the comments on the article offered an answer, perhaps not the one I wanted. It is awful in fact – yet so much of how society paints women is contained in its bitterness, it is worth a glance:
“Even the traditional marriage vows say, ‘Love, honor, and cherish’. Trust is not mentioned… The other thing the article does not mention is that trust must be earned. I trust things that are based on reason, logic, and science. But these things take some effort and some discipline, and they don’t always produce results that serve my own interests… Also based on my experience, what comes out of a woman’s mouth is generally based on emotion and designed to maximally serve their own self-interest. Their own self-interest trumps accuracy, logic, honor, law, morality, and reason. It is also generally isolated from accountability. In this, they have much in common with what comes from the mouths of little children, so I grant both a similar degree of (mis) trust…Declining to trust women is not the problem, it’s the solution.”
Dear heavens infantilized and distrusted to boot. A break-the-ice game loses its charm if you are presumed to be lying with every word. Not that it’s a new concept – one can find similar thoughts through antiquity. Like Tertullian (father of the Latin church) who called women’s bodies a sewer cap or the sainted Albertus Magnus, who found “women to be defective men who lied as they breathed and were perhaps akin to snakes or horned devils…”
Of course, this is completely appalling and rather worthy of a smash the patriarchy rant, and that may still happen. However, right now, let’s draw the circle tighter and see how the personal is political (Kate Millet). If the inherent dynamic in the relationship is that one person is lying, every conversation must be parsed; each sentence examined with eye of Sherlock or at least Perry Mason (he was the old curmudgeon, right?). It gets silly when it devolves into that scene in Princess Bride, where Vizzino battles wits with the Dread Pirate Roberts. You know the one, “if you say this, then I must assume you mean that – or perhaps, you thought I would think that, so I.” No wonder the grumpy dude writing above is frightened — he assumes every interaction is a minefield; with each step he could be exploded.
Both parties caught up in this “inconceivable” dance suffer. Look again at the guy up there, the Distruster — how much fun do you think he is having? Constantly on guard, waiting for the “aha” that proves him right. Every joy, every pleasure is shadowed with the paint by numbers formula that doesn’t quite believe. Then there’s the Distrustee, not quite sure how to prove innocence. Proclaiming trustworthiness on a loop sounds defensive and slightly politician-like. Yet, ignoring it leaves a tripwire between them set to explode.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone can or should be trusted, even I, in my roseate world, can’t believe that. There are people that lie as easily as they breathe, and hide entire volumes behind a charming smile. Like Kaa the Python in Disney’s Jungle Book, they slither into your into your life whispering, “Trust in me”, destruction hidden in a song. Be they politicians or lovers, discovering the mistake always stings. Aesop told a fable about a tricky scorpion and a gullible frog where the “bite” literally drowns the pair; Madeleine Peyroux and William Galison’s share a jazzy version in “Shoulda Known”. The question then becomes how deeply will you let the poison spread. If one woman cheated – do you expect that of all, and see betrayal lying in wait? If a man leaves your self-respect tattered do you apologize to everyone in advance, doubting your own value? Suspicion bruises the edges of conversation, distrust feeds there. Neither women nor men offer perfection — so how do you move beyond both the culture that normalizes distrust and the stings of personal pain?
Believing in the world and in most people may seem ridiculous, and yes the naiveté of the concept is quite mockable. People have stories — you and I have stories of trusts violated, remembered aches — pain that could easily yield to the bitterness of the sainted venerables above. Yet, could you live with that alternative – baseless distrust or an assumption of untruth about those that surround you? Does that help anything?
I think shedding a few million pounds of gendered distrust might lighten everyone’s mood. Imagine how liberating it could be to just assume, until proven otherwise, that the people you know, the stories you hear, the joys and sorrows are just that – no cynicism, no ploys — could you? Could I?
Oh! Did you ever decide? — Which was my lie?
- Trust in Me (Etta James) – A song written in 1937 that became a standard in 1961 for Etta James’ and her sultry voice. Though lovely, it suffered in that it was on the same album as “At Last”. It’s plea is very simple, “Trust in me in all you do/Have the faith I have in you/Love will see us through, if only you trust in me”.
- Trust Nobody (D4) – a NZ indie band popular on the SXSW scene a few years ago — what one euphemistically calls “garage rock” which can be awesome or not so much? They have a couple of cool songs, including this anti-John Donne number with a chorus that says, “Don’t put your trust in nobody/You can’t trust nobody but yourself”
- Take Care (Drake & Rihanna) – “I know you’ve been hurt by someone else/I can tell by the way you carry yourself/If you let me, here’s what I’ll do/I’ll take care of you/I’ve loved and I’ve lost” — so, most of these losing trust, finding trust, and variations thereof — aren’t too peppy…. although the sheer fact that Drake’s music is said to “combine elements of r&b with Canadian rap” — yep, Canadian rap! What a cool and awfully polite concept!
- Let Me Leave (Marc Broussard) – steeped in Cajun music from childhood, his stuff has been called, “Bayou Soul” — which means magnolia nights and wood fire smells set to rhythms that glissade down your spine. Darker than some of the other cuts, this song focuses on how easy it is to lose trust in your own value.
- That’s What Friends are For (Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, & Stevie Wonder) — a Bacharach/Sager song that was recorded by the power quartet as a fund raiser for AIDS research is wonderful — it has all those Bacharach swooshes that just catch you and hold you. Yeah — this song also about finding trust, believes in each other no matter the circumstance — “Keep smiling and keep shining/Knowing you can always count on me, for sure/That’s what friends are for/In good times and bad times/I’ll be on your side forever more/That’s what friends are for””
- A Matter of Trust (Billy Joel) – he’s one of those timeline singers — you know exactly at what moment each of his songs mattered to you – I remember listening to this song feeling his companionship with each repeat. In other words, it has seen a lot of 3ams. “I know you’re an emotional girl/It took a lot for you to not lose your faith in this world/I can’t offer you proof/But you’re going to face a moment of truth/It’s hard when you’re always afraid/You just recover when another belief is betrayed/So break my heart if you must/It’s a matter of trust”
- The Times They are a Changin (Bob Dylan) – sometimes the chaos of the world fosters distrust and fear of the new, the changing, the unknown future — and the people in it. “Come mothers and fathers/Throughout the land/And don’t criticize/What you can’t understand/Your sons and your daughters/Are beyond your command/Your old road is rapidly agin’”
- Beautiful Liar (Shakira & Beyoncé) – One of my pet peeves (there has to be a better word) is the idea that women are inherently unable to trust other women. This song manages to upend the dynamic a bit, letting the women ally against someone neither could trust. “Tell me how to forgive you/When it’s me who’s ashamed/And I wish I could free you/Of the hurt and the pain/But the answer is simple/He’s the one to blame”
- Show Me (Jill Scott) – Originally from Philly, she is a spoken word artist, a singer, and an actress – take a few minutes to Google her. I’ll wait. Her voice is like a Heath bar, all buttered toffee scratching against sweetness. “If I asked you to trust me on all things/Could you do it?/If I needed you to map your position/Would you try it?”
- Trust (Christina Perri) – another PA performer. I had originally dismissed her as the “Twilight” song woman; then I realized that I kind of liked the song better than the books or movie. Since then she has had several songs that I found charming. “To trust myself/To trust someone else/To trust the doubt in the back of my mind/Trust the trail of pain left behind”.
- X and Y (Coldplay) – I had a friend, most wonderful person you could know, smart, and funny. She was in her 70s and thought Coldplay rocked the house. I loved it! This song just feels slippy against your throat “I wanna love you but I don’t know if I can/I know something is broken and I’m trying to fix it/Trying to repair it, any way I can”
- If I ever Lose my Faith in You (Sting) – Of course. Every now & then he moves out of my nuanced comfort zone, where his songs cascade in multicolor — into one that is black and white. This one does that. Although, I will say this verse was prescient: “Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world/You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV/You could say I lost my belief in our politicians/They all seemed like game show hosts to me”.
- Shoulda known (William Galison/Madeleine Peyroux) – As noted above, it’s Aesop’s fable — but so much more. While their collaboration lasted, the two of them could sing the farm report and it would be pure jazz pleasure.
- Falling for You (Jem) – another one of my Welsh singers — they’re just good. While most family histories talk about our bit of Welsh, I worry. I think my singing voice would disqualify me…. “Cause I can feel it, baby/I feel like I’m falling for you/But I’m scared to, let go/I’m scared coz my heart has been hurt so
- Simple Song (The Shins) – a New Mexico band that seems to channel the British invasion just a bit…. this song is just fun. “Love’s such a delicate thing that we do,/With nothing to prove,/Which I never knew”.
- Surrender (Angels and Airwaves) – one of those members bopping in & out bands – sometimes they can find a sweet spot – this song is one of those. “There is a place to hide/It’s in our minds/It’s in the dark/Its well known/That we have a fragile heart”.
- Any Kind of Lie (Marti Jones) – we’ve talked about my much loved NC Ms. Jones, who’s as much a painter with words as she is on canvas — “any kind of lie worth believing/any kind of joke with a chance at all/any kind of lie worth believing/tells on us all…”
- Blues in the Night (Dr. John, various & sundry Wainwrights, Ella, Bing?!) – one of those jazzy, tap your toes and slide into the magnolias until…. until you pay attention to the lyrics. “My mama done tol’ me, when I was in knee-pants/My mama done tol’ me,/”Son a woman’ll sweet talk”/And give ya the big eye, but when the sweet talkin’s done/A woman’s a two-face, A worrisome thing who’ll leave ya to sing the blues in the night”, basically the 1941’s version of the “devil woman” as penned by Arlen & Mercer.
- Believe (Mumford & Sons) – I really like these guys, when I’m not the teensiest bit annoyed that they & the Avett brothers hit at the same time with similar styles, yet Mumford is the one that exploded. This is probably my favorite they’ve done — it’s wistful, yet resigned. “I don’t even know if I believe/Everything you’re trying to say to me/I had the strangest feeling/Your world’s not all it seems/So tired of misconceiving/What else this could’ve been”.
- Lies (CHVRCHES) – the girls introduced me to them and perhaps it’s because they’re from Scotland, because I don’t think I expected to begin liking “synthpop”? The music is slightly addictive, and very thought provoking – “I can sell you lies/You can’t get enough/Make a true believer of anyone, anyone, anyone/I can call you up if I feel alone”.
One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life.–> EM Forster