Exaggeration is a blood relation to falsehood and nearly as blamable.
We, as users of the internet, are lied to on a daily basis. Whether it is a lie of exaggeration or perhaps a misapplication of facts, we have to be careful what it is we hang our hat upon. Conversely, we also need to be careful with what we publish. Be it article, blog post, essay, email, text or instant message, what we say, the words we choose, the stories we tell, whether intentionally or not, are all a reflection of who we are. Or at least, a presentation for how the world sees us.
This blog is a perfect example. It is very easy for me to espouse the virtues of being a gentleman. It takes only the effort of putting proverbial pen to paper for me to tell you all how to live. Practicing these standards presents an entirely different challenge. I try to live like a gentleman. And I try to practice what I preach. But there are times when I forget or I get caught up in a moment, like anyone else. Change is not easy. However, if you were only to know me through this blog and through my writings, you would only know the "me" that I carefully craft and diligently create through careful word choice and thoughtful editing.
The man in writing is a far more curated man than that in real life.
Or he should be.
Which brings me to my main emphasis of today's post: living life literally. As gentleman, we are careful in our presentation. We tie and re-tie our neckties every morning to make sure we've gotten it just right. We curate our wardrobes and we practice our penmanship to make sure our signatures imbue the correct message. We look at every detail of our lives and analyze them because we know that everything is an opportunity for design. And every design is an opportunity for analysis.
Our writings should not be any different.
Without getting myself off track discussing the nature of texts and emails, I believe it is safe to say that at one time or another we have all fallen victim to a misunderstood email or text. Sarcasm does not translate well onto the written page and it is very easy for a person to place their own emphasis and emotions into an email. I believe Freud called this projection.
But what if we take that option away? If we practice literalism in all written communication, save when it is appropriate as in fiction or humor, then it would seem to me that we can all be saved a great deal of trouble. By removing sarcasm, exaggeration, and vagaries, we can make our points in a clear and concise manner which would permit the greatest amount of understanding. Furthermore, we would reap the benefit of not having to quell arguments that are entirely based on misunderstandings.
Exaggeration, however, by no means limits itself to writing. I believe "literally" along with "ironic" are two of the most misused words in the English language. I have no studies to back that up, but from personal experience, I find their misuse to be ubiquitous, especially on the internet. It would seem that not a day goes by in conversation or on social media where I don't see a post or hear a comment wherein someone says "I literally..." The fact is, they are lying. There were not literally "millions of cops" at the concert. There might have been an enormous amount of cops at the concert. They may have numbered in the thousands. But to use the word "literally" is to imply that the following statement is accurate. "I literally drank my face off last night." No you didn't.
Another option for gross exaggeration presents itself in the bane of English teachers everywhere: "like". As in: "There were like, a million cops at the concert." This should go without saying, but do not use "like" as an adverb. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you should not use adverbs at all. It makes for poor writing and frankly weakens whatever it is you are trying to say. The word "like" should be limited to use as a comparison: "He was more like a bear than a man.", a conjunction: "They look like they are having fun.", or a verb: "I like this."
When you make the conscious effort to be exacting and literal in all things, you will find that people will believe you a great deal more. If you speak in accurate terms, and eschew hyperbole and exaggeration, your stories will carry more weight, your conversations will be challenged less, and in the long run, your life will be made that much easier. A man who speaks only the truth will be trusted. It is a fool's errand to spend a moment more defending a story that you know to be false, for the only reason of saving face.
If something took you 15 minutes to complete, then say it took 15 minutes. The long and short of it, is that when we cease to be accurate or honest in our communication, we cease to have control of how people perceive us.
Let's say, for example, that it took me four hours to accomplish a task. If I were to be honest and tell my boss that it took four hours, then my boss has an accurate understanding of my abilities. However, if I say it took two hours (because I want to appear to be efficient) then my boss may believe that the work was not challenging and assign me more work than I can handle. Conversely, if I say the same project took me eight hours (because I want the task to seem more arduous than it was) my boss may instead believe me to be a poor worker. Only by telling the truth and being literal in our conversation can we properly communicate.
Be it a post on facebook, a text to a friend, a note to a coworker, or a story at a party, practicing a literal approach to discourse will serve you well. It will prevent social issues from arising in that no misunderstanding can occur and ultimately, you will be known as someone who's word can be trusted. And a gentleman is always trustworthy.
Until next time, be a gentleman.