Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Naïveté


The  word of the day is naïveté, from :French naïve, feminine of naïf, from Old French naif, natural, native, from Latin nativus, native, rustic, from natus, past participle of nasci, to be born; see gen- in Indo-European roots.  The Klingon word for this is roughly translated ‘idiot’.
The formal definition from the American Heritage Dictionary is “The state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical. An artless, credulous, or uncritical statement or act.”
It can mean trusting, accepting, easily fooled or swayed.  Included in the group of the naïve are those who, for example, vote based solely on party, race, religion, or just because their labor union endorsed a candidate.
And it can include those who among us who are easily taken advantage of because we are trusting, or still have the absurd notion to take someone at their word.  We use a handshake as a contract, our word as law, and foolishly expect that in return.   That is the kicker, you know.  Not that we stand on such informality, but because we believe that those with whom we make such overtures are in agreement.  That’s the real naïveté, and I confess, I’m full of it.  Pretty much always have been.  Give me your word, and unless you have at some time in the past shown that your word has all the value of a three dollar bill, I simply assume that we’re on the same page.
I’ll paraphrase something my grandfather used to say, in his gruff German flavored English: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me Twice, you’re screwed.”  It’s a great sentiment, but it still has a sobering caveat.  I get to be fooled twice before I can invoke the ‘you’re screwed’ portion of the incantation.  I can’t even invoke Harry Potter’s ‘redikulus’ charm until I’ve been fooled twice.
This week alone I had a lengthy phone conversation and exchanges of emails with someone who is hovering on the edge of the ‘fool me twice’ part of the negotiation, and why?  Because I believed him the first time.  I took him at his word.  He fooled me once because we have a very different understanding of what a lie is, and what giving your word means, and mostly because as I have been most of my life, I am still full to overflowing with naïveté.
I used to say things like ‘I don’t know how you sleep at night’.  I no longer say things like that.  I’ve learned they sleep very well.  It’s not a case of being immoral so much as it is a case of being amoral.  No sense of morality.  The deal is the thing, no matter who has to be crushed along the way.
It’s disheartening, disenchanting, and probably a few other dis’s I can’t recall, but still leave me completely and irrefutably dissed.  All because of my naïveté.
So I’m thinking about reworking and rewording the ground rules.  “Fool me once, and you’ll have to prove everything else you tell me for the rest of your life.”
But then, once I invoke that rule, my naïveté will probably keep me awake at night wondering if I shouldn’t have given you a second chance.
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