Insights Into Human Relations

by Abiola Lapite | 11/22/95 6:00am

Important discoveries in the field of human relations have come to light, so important that I cannot in good conscience keep them from the readership of The Dartmouth, nearly all of whom are dear to me.

I received in the mail within the week a letter from a certain Dr. A. Moriarty, detailing to me in excited tones the breakthroughs he and his fellow researchers at the Truth Institute have recently made. There were many curious things contained in the letter, but the size constraints of the column mean I can communicate only a few of the startling revelations made therein.

The first, and according to Dr. Moriarty, the most important finding is that, contrary to what I and undoubtedly a few misguided individuals might have supposed, the key to smoothly functioning relationships lies not in sincerity but in the exact opposite. Truth in human interactions is a dangerous thing, and for the best returns should be made available only in minute details. What we all like to think of as "hypocrisy" is in fact that which is best for us all: It sharpens the senses, engages the mind, relieves stress levels and generally rates a close second to elixir vitae as a cure all for ill health and bad feeling.

Being the naive soul that I was, I was shocked by Dr. Moriarty's finding. All this time, I had held that it was important to always say what one meant, and just as important to have meant what one said. It had seemed to me that the courage to stand by one's convictions was some kind of virtue, but, as the good doctor demonstrated to me in a proof, I had things exactly the other way around.

Since, because of space constraints, I cannot lay out this wonderful proof for all my dear readers to see for themselves, I will give by way of examples what I hope will be grounds to at least take Moriarty's claim seriously.

The first example comes from what Dr. Moriarty calls the "damnable praise" category. How many times have you found yourself in the uncomfortable situation of being asked for your opinion on works by their authors, and found yourself unable in good conscience to say you thought highly of what you had seen or heard? How much trouble you could have saved yourselves if only you had known the right thing to say! A phrase like "this is certainly unique," or "only you could have done this" would certainly have done the trick -- so Dr. Moriarty tells me, and I have no good reason to doubt him.

The important thing about the examples above is the way they manage to serve several purposes at once. They are ambiguous enough to be taken anyway one might find convenient, they are in some measure true and, of no less importance, they are an insult to the intelligence of an unduly discerning listener. In short, such statements are markers of high conversational style.

The second example comes from the genre of the human courtship ritual gone wrong, a genre Dr. Moriarty gives a name I do not consider appropriate to print here: I suspect the good doctor finds the subject a bitter one to touch upon. Usually in these things, after one party has made a fool of him/herself, though with these things it usually is a himself, the other replies with a gem such as "you're too good for me," or "I hope to marry someone like you some day." With their elements of humility, satire and condescension, such throwaway sentences are gems of a spectacular cut.

But I have gone on too long about conversational style here. Dr. Moriarty clearly indicates in his letter that there is more to successful social intercourse than knowing the right things to say. There are also matters of style to consider, such as body language and so forth. For instance, it is important that one avoid eye contact with others, lest they discern one's feelings or intentions. One must be well versed in the art of intrigue, lest life cease to be interesting for all. Shallow relationships are to be encouraged, as they create in others the impression of secret depths which one will reveal only to a select few. The hollow laugh and a properly condescending smile must not be overlooked, and it is important that one master the art of pretending not to notice others, lest one open oneself to unwarranted fraternization. I can proudly say here that the last skill at least is one many at Dartmouth have long ago mastered.

I would go on if I had the chance, but the constraints of this medium dictate that I stop here. I hope that the few insights of Dr. Moriarty's I have shared with this paper's audience will improve the quality of life for a good number.