While Oscar Wilde happily explored “The Importance of Being Earnest,” an even more poignant topic is the importance of “worse.” Whether we are talking about what our friends, family, lovers and colleagues have done to us or about our own newly embroidered afflictions, Nothing glides so smoothly across the palate as the opening phrase: “and you know what is even worse…”
Dramatic statements, about how bad others have turned out to be, are generated with lusty imagination, even by people who otherwise lack all creativity. Habitual liars usually don’t use their skills so much in order to regain lost virtues, rather they pile up tall tales of imagined vices of others – with the SOP story line (Standard Operating Procedure) “the worse others are, the better I am.”
In WWI, the British told stories about their German adversaries living in trees and eating children: that is the counterfactual version of “I am better because you are worse.” During the height of Christian missionary fervor, natives were told that anything other than the “missionary position” is a sin: that is the “I extend the range of what is bad, so I am better” version of the same slandering others for personal salvation.
We still have a long way to go on the path to ridding ourselves of the importance of what is worse. A gentle smile of mutual understanding might be a nice step in that direction.