When I was thirteen my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school. She had to work and felt I would be safer and also get the benefit of an excellent education. However, it was analogous to a Marine boot camp! We had a strict regimen: up a five thirty, mass at six o:clock, back to our rooms to make beds, breakfast, study hall, than classes till three. After our classes, free time till 4, outdoor activity till five, dinner at 5: 30, study hall and then lights out at 8. The rules and regulations were to be followed without excuses or whining. If you tried to outwit the good sisters, you were “in for it”,
There was no corporal punishment. You were told the error of your ways, and either had to go to detention or say hundreds of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Mary’s” in order to gain absolution. You learned to not try to weasel your way out of things very early on.
My boarding school days flashed before my eyes when I read of the latest, greatest, scandal which centered around Brian Williams the CBS nightly news anchor. It seems he reported he falsely recounted a story that he was in a helicopter that was hit by ground fire in 2003. One of the higher-ups said he “misrepresented events”. Another word used was that he possibly ” misremembered”. Is it possible for our memories to dim or can we embellish them over the years? Absolutely! However we are now in the era of “doublespeak” where we create words that make the bad seem good, make lies sound honest, and negative events seem positive. Basic to doublespeak according to Kathy Kellerman is incongruity -“the incongruity between what is said, or left unsaid, and what really is.”
The first word I heard that fit the above criteria was “downsizing”. Corporate cultures decided that it would ease the pain of just being fired. I’m sure millions of people on unemployment felt soothed when they explained they were downsized. Doublespeak grew over the years. Some of it is quite comical. I would be considered ” vertically challenged” and ” horizontally impaired” instead of simply short and pudgy. A garbage man is now a ” sanitation engineer”. A psycho is a “pathologically high-spirited” individual, “pre-owned” instead of used or possibly beat up, ” person of interest” instead of suspect in a crime, “ill-advised” instead of a very bad idea. One if my favorites “negative patient care outcome” which means the patient died. Oh, there are many more and I’m sure many more to come.
When is a lie, a lie, or how do we discern fantasy from reality? How do we create a moral compass for future generations if we continually “misremember” the direction we’re going in?