Ramblings on a word – Discount

Personal Essay

let's talk/Shelly Paul
Image by Shelly Paul

Discount – deduction from the whole

In conversations with friends and family over a period of time, I have come to understand that there is a tendency to distort or stretch the truth. Such alterations make for interesting anecdotes and lively conversation. But, when it comes to regular interaction with people in daily life, staying close to reality keeps life’s flow relatively smooth.

Over the years after listening to numerous personal stories, I realized separating the husk from the grain can be really hard. I also realized that I don’t have to know the absolute truth about everything to have healthy relationships. All I need is a credible approximation of the broad reality. To ascertain this, all I need to do is to discount certain parts of the issues presented, according to the individual’s nature and character.

This is my current formula to get to the heart of the matter:
At first I take all things said in a conversation at face value. No assumptions, no presumptions unless the context is obvious or common in social parlance. In time, a pattern would emerge and some lack of consistency would begin to show, in the continuity of the narratives. Depending on the degree of this inconsistency, I assign discounts to the information presented to me.

Some stories remain consistent over a period of time with very little or negligible amount of exaggeration. So no salt. Oh, by the way, I measure the truth-discount by the maxim, ‘Take it with a pinch of salt’. If that measure were to be interpreted arithmetically, a pinch of salt would range between one to five percentage points.

Some stories are stretched to be colorful, with slight exaggerations to boost one’s self-image without a trace of malice. To these stories, I would assign a pinch of salt. From there depending on the level of exaggeration, a couple of pinches and so on and so forth.

For exaggerations and distortions borrowed from movies and television series, mixed transparently without imagination, half a fistful. For stories distorted to such dramatic proportions, that it strays so far away from reality, a fistful of salt is assigned as discount, because I can barely ball-park the reality of the events presented.

Then, there are the irony impaired, where the diatribes dotted with jibes and other grouses could be attributed more to themselves than the person they are complaining about. I would stand there listening, momentarily confused, trying to understand if this person was vehemently describing themselves or the other person. Once I realize they have no self-awareness, which explains the irony impairment – it’s a fistful and a half.

Then there are people whose stories and manner can swing from one extreme to another without obvious reasons. In their stories, one day’s villain would be the next day’s hero, and if I press for reasons behind these inexplicable reversals, no lucid explanation is offered. Not only that, the person would get quite defensive with the conversation ending abruptly, only to resume normally after a certain interval of time, without any mention of the earlier disruption. This chequered relationship continues, until it becomes unsustainable and breaks down entirely.

It took me a long while to realize that these are people with such emotional instability, with a world view so skewed, that when they say something as simple as, ‘Nobody listens to me’, what they actually mean is, ‘Despite all my machinations and cunning, I cannot get others to submit to my will’.

Upon that realization I had to throw away the salt, because at that point the exaggerated reality has moved away from the realm of convenient, but harmless ambiguity and into the realm of malice where traces of truth are so mangled that there is simply no way to ascertain the peripheries of reality.

Note: If the truth-discount were to be applied to me, I would fall under the pinch-of-salt category because I tend to exaggerate for reasons of vanity or comic effect.

Fun fact: The truth-discount can be applied not only to people in our personal lives, but also to organizations. Here are a few examples for television news:
PBS Newshour – no salt
MSNBC – Throw away the salt
Fox News – Ew gross, throw away the salt.
CNN – Nobody knows what CNN does.
CNBC – Lost all money because of bad reporting. No money to buy salt.

Hone your truth-discount skills, and hold yourself and others accountable.


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