In What Is Real?, Evelyn Rodriguez writes:
I’d rather be real than great. I have never gained anything I truly wanted from a pure pursuit of greatness. I’m not saying these two are mutually exclusive, but the focus can lead one astray. Nothing kills relationships – personal and professional – quicker than when I stop being real. It’s costly in the tangible cash realm too.
If phoniness is so harmful, why is it so common? Here’s my guess.
Being real carries a tremendous social risk. For every Evelyn receiving praise for writing a heartfelt blog post, there are plenty of children being scolded by their mothers for vocalizing a embarrassing observation; and junior-highers being ridiculed by their peers for revealing an affection for an unpopular classmate; and employees being labeled a renegade for pointing out a fact that makes their managers look bad. From a very young age, we are trained to shut up about every uncomfortable truth we discover, and in the process learn to punish those that don’t.
It takes courage to be real, but every attempt fortifies the soul, building more courage for the next attempt.
Phoniness works the same cycle in reverse. Being a phony doesn’t require any special effort, but every act of phoniness kills a bit of one’s soul, draining one’s courage for the next opportunity until one slowly turns into Bill Lumbergh (who has my disdain and pity in about equal measure).
So here’s my theory on why phoniness is so prevalent: as it requires no special effort to be a phony and there are many social forces pushing people towards it, phoniness becomes the common style of interaction.