Speaking truth when there’s much to lose.

is there anyone who doesn’t know me?

At 29 minutes, 30 seconds or so of episode 7, season 7 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, everyone’s hero, refused to make a vow that he couldn’t keep, even though saying the words might have saved the world. What he did say (my paraphrase is close) might be the key to why he is possibly the most admired character in G of T. “I cannot swear to something I do not mean to keep. If lies can be told so casually, then words will eventually mean nothing.” Eventually? He couldn’t be referring to our world, our politics, our relationships, our media, our religions, ourselves, could he?

At 45 minutes into the same episode, one of the most deceptive and least admirable characters, “Littlefinger(?)” Petyr Baelish, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, tries to sow distrust of Arya in the mind of hers and Jon’s sister Sansa. Like the serpent, his goal is to use “reasonable” words to deceive. “When I wonder about someone’s motives, I play a little game. I try to imagine the worst reason someone could have for suggesting something?” Soon he is hoist on his own petard, or rather his words are thrown back at him, followed by the swipe of Arya’s dagger against his throat.

As a former student and “master practitioner” (kind of a Meester) of neuro-linguistic programming, NLP, I was taught that words mean far more than we usually imagine. Words we speak or say to ourselves actually represent a mental map of how we access and process information stored in our minds. We can and do deceive ourselves with words. Words we say to ourselves and others create our history, much of which never happened, at least not the way we prefer to imagine. Words are associated in our minds with pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and tastes. If I knew what your favorite food is, I could cause you to salivate by describing that food in words. How can words provoke autonomic reactions? Words are power, they are our reality.

It’s a well known fact that recall of names and recent events slows down considerably as we age. Imagine your mind as a vast library, and words as the filing system for all your knowledge and experience. For example, someone says a name to you, like Jon Snow or Sansa Stark, and you soon see a face, if you’ve watched G of T. But how? The picture of the face was stored from before, and the name, the words, trigger the neurons responsible for searching the mental library for the face. The older you get, the slower the process, and the more likely the attempt to find the file will get sidetracked into the wrong file. The exact processes by which information is pulled from memory are unknown, but are more often triggered by words than anything else.

I called this post, “Speaking truth when there’s much to lose.” How does a person decide, at the moment of the vow or promise or statement, to speak truth or falsehood? There are really only two decision making processes. Jon Snow represents one, the better one, which I call principle based. Baelish represents the other, inferior one, which I call expediency based. Jon said, in effect, he had already decided a long time ago to only vow what he meant—the principle. Baelish would coldly calculate possible gains or losses from different vows, then say whatever he thought would gain the most or lose the least—the expediency. His way cost him his life in the end. Too bad every liar can’t see the future.