When Aaron Sorkin's oft-imitated Colonel Jessop storms "You can't handle the truth!", most of us sit in eager anticipation for Tom Cruise to work his manipulative magic and rip the truth from the smug colonel's countenance.
Some of the most common themes in literature arise around the tug of war topic between appearance and reality. Fiction, however, does not hold eminent domain over such a struggle. Most people spend their waking hours delving into all aspects of trying to hide reality from others and themselves while, at the same time, demanding transparency from everyone around them.
Whether it's the "flattering" clothes we choose, or the cosmetic alterations, or the airs of grandeur we adopt, we do our very best to conceal and hide what we consider a flawed reality from everyone else. We work to fulfill expectations that aren't our own by wearing certain styles. While most people admit a fondness for being able to lounge around in a t-shirt and sweats on a weekend, we are quite willing to adorn ourselves according to expectations. We will don the business suit and tie and carry the cow hide portfolio. We will gather around the water cooler or surreptitiously open chat windows to compare notes on the previous night's reality television escapades or try to derive gossip from who's spending too long in each other's office. We would be horrified to find ourselves on the speculative end of rumor, but are quite willing to exercise, with reckless abandon, character dissections of others based on the most miniscule tidbits of information. It's a small wonder we take such pains to hide in public.
We decorate our houses in the acceptable fashions, buying furniture endorsed by television homemakers if over 35 and Swedish box store consortia if under. We hang posters and prints and pictures and paintings to microcast the inner-workings of our sensitive minds to those that walk by and ponder. We allow clutter to happily gather around us for a week and will relish basking in its fort-like structures until an hour before company comes and it all must vanish in an effort to convince friends and acquaintances that we foster pristine, perfect living spaces. We have collections of place settings that remain in cloistered velvet-lined boxes or on display in glass-doored cabinets that we only use with a special brand of event or assembly. We spend hours, days and sometimes weeks on crafting our yards into elaborate Home and Garden pictorials in an effort to send a message. If the medium is the message, and our front lawns are the medium, we need to learn new languages.
We create online personas that seek to enhance our best qualities and obliterate our worst. We try to impart wisdom in 140 characters or less. We post links to oddly-interesting websites that we think other people will also like, but, more importantly, will create a perception of cutting-edge cool in whichever milieu we choose to categorize ourselves. We social network with people we met one night at a bar and will never see again. We've seen pictures of their family and friends in our feeds and, for the time being, seem to know more about them than some of our own family members. We reduce our 3D reality down to 2D profiles. We use Facebook as a verb. We twitter, plurk, friendfeed, ping, and google each other to derive snippets of information that will further feed our eternal quest to think we "know" about someone better that they think we do.
We speak less than honestly, but rarely completely dishonest. We know how to spin a message yet get infuriated upon discovering the media has. We want to divulge enough to stay relevant but not enough to make us obsolete. We obfuscate better than any press secretary. We politic better than any politician. We can manipulate as well as any cult leader, though sometimes our guilt gets in the way. We find ways to avoid conversations when the topic seems too tedious. We find ways to push conversations when our comfort zones allow for insight. We can cut to the quick to make a statement, to make a point, to make an enemy, to make an ally. We throw up shields. We duck and cover. We block emails, unlist our numbers, disassociate and move to new streets, cities and countries all in the effort to avoid truth.
Colonel Jessop was right. We can't handle the truth. Because while it sits out there like the Grail, the Fountain of Youth, or the Pot of Gold, the quest is always more important than the prize itself. What do you do when you find the Holy Grail? Have a pint?