The Social Contract
Last night Michelle and I cozied up on the couch to take in one of our favorite shows, House (watch the episode, Social Contract, here). As a side note, we don’t have TV at home so we watch a couple shows online, which is awesome. There is far less time devoted to commercials so we waste less of our lives in front of the TV. (Of course we could waste even less of it if we didn’t watch it at all. Moving on…quickly.)
If you’ve ever watched House you know that the main character, Dr. House, doesn’t exactly follow the rules of political correctness and tact. He says what he’s thinking and he is brutally honest, sometimes just to piss people off. In last night’s episode, the patient he and his team have to help has a condition that removes all his inhibitions, so that he doesn’t censor any of his thoughts, kind of like House. During his hospital stay this patient makes sexual comments to two of the doctors, tells another doctor he has a huge nose, talks about how his daughter is below average with her in the room, and even tells his wife at times he’s sorry he married her. It was painful to watch, and the painful to the patient who was saying all these things. It got to the point where he asked to have an extremely risky surgery done, one which would either cure him or kill him, because he didn’t want to continue living if he was going to continue hurting everyone he cared about.
But there was an interesting two-part counter-point to the seeming benefit of telling white lies and censoring true thoughts. In the climactic scene, the patient’s wife is asking him a series of questions because she knows her husband will tell her the truth. This is when he tells her at times he’s sorry he married her and that he doesn’t respect what she does for a living (something she cares about deeply). But she also asks him if he loves her. And without missing a beat he responds, with passion, “Yes, I love you!” It is not a response of desperation, though he’s desperate by this time. It is a response of deeply-felt truth. His wife storms away, crying, but in the final scene of the show, after he is cured (they almost always are) she comes to pick him up. You get the sense that despite the massive hurt his honesty caused, the fact that she knows his love is real is enough to make her continue on.
The second part of the counter-point happens between House and his best friend, Wilson. House knows Wilson has been concealing something, which turns out to be an upcoming guilt-ridden meeting with his schizophrenic brother. Skipping most of the story, one of the final scenes is Wilson and House on an elevator.
Wilson says something like, “You know why I didn’t tell you about this? Because I needed someone that follows the social contract–someone who would lie to me and tell me what I needed to hear, and you don’t do that. I needed someone who would tell me they were sure it would all work out fine. You would have told me it probably wouldn’t.”
House responds, “So do you want me to follow the social contract?”
“No,” Wilson says emphatically. “You are honest and I know no matter what I can count on you for that. I don’t want anything to change in our friendship.”
Despite it’s difficulty, Wilson understands the importance of honesty. Honesty from a friend who won’t pull any punches, but a friend who is als0 intensely loyal. One who will offend you and then stick by you. One who will tell you it probably won’t work out with your brother and then offer to accompany you because it will be difficult and you could use company. This is not unattached truth. It is a deeply invested truth.
We all get the social contract. We say the things we’re supposed to say when we’re supposed to say them. We seldom offer the truth, especially when it’s not pleasant. And our servitude to the social contract both serves as a buffer to an abundance of conflict and a buffer from deep relationship.