“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”-Noël Coward
Noël Coward started his career as a child actor but later became a successful playwright during World War II. After World War II, Coward reinvented himself as a cabaret singer and later landed roles in major films. A man of many talents who spent most of his life in the public eye, Coward wrote the quote above in the theater comedy “Blithe Spirit” (“Bibliography”).
What Coward wrote in his production is exactly what I would later recognize to be the true lesson of my coursework in a two-part Critical Thinking and Writing course at Santa Clara University. Why is it that honesty comes as a surprise? Honesty is a value that many children learn when they are young—either in their home with their families or at school among their peers. But as a young adult, I recognize that not everyone around me has managed to maintain this value. Instead, many of my peers have become dependent on the idea of working to thrive in an instance where their self-interest is more important than anything else including the interest of others. Or they work towards a group goal but are not afraid of blurring the lines to reach the desired outcome because of their allegiance to the group. Yet the right action, the more honest action, is often forgotten now for the easier option that will provide the person doing the action with the fastest result.
Understanding someone’s allegiance can be difficult to grasp, but Dan Ariely researches behavior economics and has written several books on honesty and rationality that makes understanding how people behave in simpler terms. In his book The (honest) Truth
About Dishonesty, Ariely raises the point that “we are all motivated to act in our own self-interest to some degree, but we also have a desire to act in ways that benefit those around us, particularly those we care about” (Ariely 223). Some people may be prone to lie if they see that it is beneficial for the group or themselves but they do not recognize the impact of their actions. Ariely says, “we repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions in many aspects of our lives” (“All About Dan”). Our motivation is misleading because while I could aid a friend by providing them the answers to homework questions, allowing them to spend less time on the assignment, I do not consider the outcome of my actions—that my friend is not going to actually learn the material and that both of us could get into trouble.
Our extensive discussions over the past two quarters have brought a new perspective on the food industry. Recognizing that the industry has been deceptive—in labeling products and not informing customers—is important in providing our bodies with the right foods and nutrients. While labeling like “Fair Trade” gives consumers information that lets them know those products were made without exploitation, nothing is present to warn consumers that something is made with factory farmed products.
Jonathan Safran Foer spent three years researching factory farming before publishing Eating Animals. In this novel, he extensively discusses interviews and knowledge he gained
from going into the field to give readers a sense of what they are consuming. The picture is not a happy one because as Foer puts it, “to be considered free-range, chickens raised for meat must have “access to the outdoors,” which, if you take those words literally, means nothing” (Foer 61). The government may outline rules for companies to follow, but inspecting and checking these conditions does not mean that the chickens are really being treated humanely and these farms are being deceptive by putting these products on the market. The employee’s interest lies with the company and they are not worried about going against what is best for the animals they are responsible for and giving the general public information that matters.
While the second term of the class focused on the dishonesty of the food industry, I recognized that dishonesty flows both ways. In today’s modern, digital age, thinking about food from a social media perspective is very
important. This is exactly what I decided to focus on for one of my essays. In “Picture Perfect,” I not only experimented by posting my own food photographs on social media, but I looked further into the media’s demonstration of food. What I learned is that it is not easy to publish every single thing I eat online. I did not want my peers thinking that I had a terrible diet and so I would spend time deciding on what I was going to eat. In addition, I found it difficult to post pictures of my food online in a way that was appealing and would get me the satisfaction of my peers’ approval.
Millennials who are wrapped up in social media are also deceptive with their food because they post an image of themselves online that is the perception they want others to believe is true about themselves. Typical of students around me on SCU’s campus, they manipulate the photographs and the information they let out online and often post pictures of foods that look appealing and draw in people’s’ attention or show off that they have the luxury to eat visually appealing snacks and treats that others do not. Although many of us do not even recognize the deception of our food posts on social media, the second half of this course demonstrated the ease of blurring the lines between truth and falsehoods.
For those who know what the right action is but choose to ignore it, like companies who do not properly address ingredients on their labels or students portraying themselves honestly online, they lack the courage required of their position. They should be approaching the situation with the truth and upholding their integrity. Not only does this make them a more moral company, but it shows consumers that they have something to believe in and builds their company image. And for students who can recognize and change their behavior, being honest makes them more trustworthy and sincere.
Although watching David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” was one of the first things we did at the start of the first quarter of Critical Thinking and Writing, our discussions second quarter often drew my mind to
what Wallace expresses in his speech. In the commencement speech, Wallace says, “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about” (Wallace). While dishonesty is present within the food industry, it is difficult to recognize anything is wrong if we are just going through the motions of daily life and not questioning the food industry. If we do not question these companies, then they have the power to continue their deception.
Wallace later states that thinking is “being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience” (Wallace). After these two terms of Critical Thinking and Writing, I agree that taking meaning from experience is essential. Anyone can be told a fact but going out and getting something to change is what will really make an impact. In order to do this, an individual must not work for their self-interest or the interest of a specific group, but the interest of the greater community, the society they are a part of. Whether that be getting the food industry to change or to change food habits for ourselves, taking action based on new information is important. When I order or prepare food for myself, I now think more about where my food is coming from and recognize the choices I am making. But staring at a shelf in a supermarket recognizing my newfound knowledge is also difficult because now I am faced with so many choices. Do I choose a product because it raises animals humanely? Or because the company is known for being open and honest? Or because the product has only natural ingredients? Taking all of these things into consideration, I am already one step ahead of my peers because I am thinking about the greater impact of my actions.
As I mentioned, these two quarters of Critical Thinking and Writing has left me with a lot to think about. I recognize that there are a lot of places in which my peers follow their self-interest and do not think about the impacts of what they are supporting with every food-related purchase they make. In the pursuit of our actions, our tendency to work towards self-interest often overrides the consubstantial need for honesty. Attempting to resolve every issue with the food industry would be an enormous challenge. So, taking everything I have learned throughout these two quarters, I think it is important to start small and lead people to be more honest so that views like Noël Coward’s can be corrected and honesty will be expected over deceit. With that being said, I hope that any action I take to move my peers and myself to more honest paths will not make me believe I am not biting off more than I can chew.
“All About Dan.” Danariely.com. Dan Ariely, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
Ariely, Dan. The (honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially
Ourselves. , 2012. Print.
“Bibliography” Noelcoward.com. Alan Brodie Representation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” 2005. Web.