Irreverent Mama

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of honesty. Yes, I believe it's a virtue, but I do not believe it's "always the best policy". Does anyone, really?

"Does this dress make me look fat?"

If the question is asked in the changing room, you can be honest, and thereby prevent your friend from buying something that makes her look like a ship in a tent. If the question is asked moments before stepping onto the stage of an awards banquet, you lie, lie, lie. What could possibly be the value of perfect honesty at such a moment?

People don't consider that principles/values can and do come into conflict: when honesty and kindness come into conflict -- and they often do -- which will you choose? Many would vigorously declare for "Honesty, of course!", as if honesty is the only path to integrity. Too frequently choosing kindness is seen as mere squeamishness, a lack of moral courage. Sometimes it is, of course, but...

Keeping something to yourself, refusing to expose person A to person B, allowing something to pass unremarked... all these various kindnesses can be harder to maintain that honesty. But at what cost honesty? Is honesty always worth the price?

And even then, when hard, clear honesty is the only way to proceed, must it be done without kindness? Must it simply be blurted out because "you need to know", or "you have a right to know", or "you need to get your shit together"? The gut-wrenching pain that honesty can cause needs to be approached with compassion, not blurted out, all the pain only the recipient's problem, because "it's for your own good."

How came knee-jerk, unreasoned honesty to be seen as a sign of integrity or purer virtue? That kind of honesty is the refuge of the simplistic. It's not high-mindedness, it's simply a lack of thought; it displays a certain shallowness of thinking. Why waste time and emotional energy weighing pros and cons when you can simply blurt out the callous facts -- and then claim the moral high ground for your insensitivity?

I can be very straight when need be; I rarely see good reason to be cruel with it. Clarity does not equate brutality, and when pressed, I'd rather err on the side of kindness.

I've often noted that people who dish out that kind of honesty are often outraged when they get a dose of it back... which shows a certain lack of integrity. Someone who weighs the pros and cons of honesty vs kindness, who knows the pain of honesty and deals it only when necessary and only to the degree required, that person will accept honesty when dealt similarly.

Those who dish it out willy-nilly, they don't like getting it back so much.

Methinks they deserve more than they're getting.

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  • Amen.

    By Blogger WackyMummy, at 12:24 p.m.  

  • I completely agree. I've got two brothers, and they seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. One (the salesman) will lie for the sake of lying, even when there is absolutely no reason to lie. The other prides himself on his "absolute honesty".

    With the honest brother, I've used the EXACT analogy you've described, about the dress, but he simply cannot see why he should ever lie. I've even said "in the shop, tell me my rear end looks like a dump truck....but in the car on the way to a party, tell me you love the color or something!" He just doesn't get it.

    To add to the analogy and the issue, who's to say what's "honest"? You can certainly tell me what YOU think of my dress, but asking "does this dress look good on me?" is asking for your subjective opinion.

    I've had one friend tell me several times how much she loved the way a certain skirt looked on me -- and another friend took me aside one day to tell me how hideous that particular skirt was, and I should throw it out.

    Was one lying to me? Perhaps, though I can't see why. Maybe they were both being honest with me (though, unless the skirt was the sort of thing to cause me to lose my job or flunk a job interview, I think friend #2 should have kept her "honesty" to herself. Regardless of the many compliments from friend #1, I never could bring myself to wear that skirt again.

    By Blogger Carolie, at 1:32 a.m.  

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