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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Portland Polite: Learn to love it

We couldn't help but think of Portland when we read this in a wonderful Mark Twain essay last night -- especially given who's taking over the reins at City Hall:

The men in that far country were liars, every one. Their mere howdy-do was a lie, because they didn't care how you did, except they were undertakers. To the ordinary inquirer you lied in return; for you made no conscientious diagnosis of your case, but answered at random, and usually missed it considerably. You lied to the undertaker, and said your health was failing -- a wholly commendable lie, since it cost you nothing and pleased the other man. If a stranger called and interrupted you, you said with your hearty tongue, "I'm glad to see you," and said with your heartier soul, "I wish you were with the cannibals and it was dinner time." When he went, you said regretfully, "Must you go?" and followed it with a "Call again"; but you did no harm, for you did not deceive anybody nor inflict any hurt, whereas the truth would have made you both unhappy....

I think that all this courteous lying is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.

What I bemoan is the growing prevalence of the brutal truth. Let us do what we can to eradicate it. An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered. The man who speaks an injurious truth lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not strictly worth saving. The man who tells a lie to help a poor devil out of trouble, is one of whom the angels doubtless say, "Lo, here is an heroic soul who casts his own welfare into jeopardy to succor his neighbor's; let us exalt this magnanimous liar."...

Lying is universal -- we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others' advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then shall we be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.

Comments (7)

Portland polite...fits well with the most intelligent, well informed electorate of any city, anywhere.

A 'benevolent' liar does nothing good and takes away the free and informed choice of the person being lied to.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." ---Winston Churchill

All misanthropes need a very good ability to employ artful artifice. Not much to be gained from hat's being knocked off of heads.

Now apply Winston's quote to the Beau Breedlove story.

Oh he was wicked, wasn't he. Why don't you print that out and mail it to Mayor Hales, with a note saying you thought he would find it amusing.

My mother-in-law would have fun with this, as she outwardly loathes speaking ill of anybody, no matter how badly they deserve it. This was standard practice when she was growing up in Texas in the 1950s, and since my wife proudly calls 'em as she sees 'em, her childhood was spent describing how, when her mouth opened, "we didn't know if a pearl would fall out or a toad." That's about the time I learned the supreme power of the Texasism "bless your heart" to tell the real story: "Bless your heart", depending upon the tone used, could mean "You're a little slow, but we love you anyway" to "Your parents were brother and sister, weren't they?" And if she used "Bless its heart", that was Texan for "That thing is dead to me. Take it away before I bury it myself."

I've learned that lesson, and taken it to heart. That's why, the last time I was in Portland, two friends showed me the tram (rim shot) and asked me what I thought. I first asked "Honest answer or polite answer?", and when they affirmed "Honest," I simply said "Bless its heart." It definitely works.

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