I fancy myself a sincere person. If I say something, it’s because I mean it, not because I feel obligated to say it.
For example, there is no pressure upon me when I say I think Cirque du Soleil is in league with the devil, else how could they do those amazing, gravity-defying things with their bodies? Someday they will use their dark powers to take over the world, I suspect, and you will not find their peculiar brand of French mysticism quite so whimsical when they have used it to enslave you!
That is my true opinion. Neither political correctness nor social pressure has inspired me to create that opinion just to be fashionable.
Also, I don’t think rap artists should be allowed to star in motion pictures. It’s not because they can’t act; I have come to accept that certain people will always be in movies, regardless of their having minimal talent. (This is known as the Freddie Prinze Jr. Prinziple.) The reason I object to rap stars as movie stars is that they don’t even have names. Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Li’l Bow Wow, Dr. Dre — those aren’t names! They’re not even proper nicknames. They’re barely even words. Seems like having a name should be the MINIMUM requirement for being a film star.
Those two seemingly random tangents are, in fact, very sturdy supports in the framework of today’s airtight column, the point of which is that we should say what we mean and mean what we say. But it is difficult, in our society, to be candid all the time. We’ve grown accustomed to saying things to be polite, or because of tradition, and the words become meaningless.
For example, when you’re introduced to someone, you almost instinctively say, “Nice to meet you.” But is it REALLY nice to meet them? You’ve just barely laid eyes on them. Unless you were told good things about them before, or unless you can already tell meeting them is a harbinger of joy — perhaps they are holding bags of candy — then it’s hard to sincerely feel like it’s “nice” to meet them.
What if the person you’ve been introduced to turns out to be an idiot? Can you retract your opening statement of “Nice to meet you”? “Listen, remember a few minutes ago, when I said it was nice to meet you? Yeah, I was just being polite. Turns out, you’re a moron.” That seems even more crass than the insincerity that started the whole thing.
Of course, maybe you’re one of those people who truly enjoy meeting new folks, regardless of what unbelievable jerks they may turn out to be. In that case, go on saying, “Nice to meet you,” and mean it. The rest of us, I think, should offer a smiling “How are you?,” a firm handshake, and an eye cast about in search of candy.
The other problem I have is when I’m being reintroduced to someone whom I had previously met but not spent a great deal of time with. Our common friend will say, “And Eric, you remember Agnes.” And the fact is, I only barely remember Agnes, and the main thing I remember about her is that she smells funny. (Not funny ha-ha; funny uh-oh.) (Is there such thing as smelling funny ha-ha? Are there smells that actually make you laugh out loud? That would be GREAT.)
So how do I react? I don’t want to be blunt and say, “Yes, of course I remember her; she smells funny.” And I don’t want to go overboard the other direction and say, “Oh, of course I remember Agnes! I think of her each night before I drift off to sleep! My children are named after her!” That would be transparently insincere, and Agnes would not appreciate it.
These are tricky social situations, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. Usually I just stammer something that sounds both honest AND polite. (For example: “The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal, please.”) That seems like a good general policy — unless Agnes is a member of Cirque du Soleil, in which case you ought to flee before she can muster the powers necessary to annihilate you. Tact is your ally only to a point.
This was not inspired by an actual re-meeting of someone who smells funny. I want to make that clear, for the benefit of anyone I may have recently re-met. The situation described here is purely hypothetical. (Though I did recently think, upon realizing I was going to re-meet someone that day, that it would be funny to say, "Of course I remember [person's name]! I think of her each night before I drift off to sleep!" I didn't say it when the time came, but the possibility occurred to me.)