When Kara Gebhart Uhl was faced with a decision of being honest or being kind, she chose to be honest. Later, she came to believe that it's possible to be both at the same time.
I believe I can be both honest and kind, even when the two seem to contradict.
Honesty often throws kindness for a loop. From telling someone there’s food in their teeth all the way to telling someone you don’t love them even though you know they love you—honest statements, although said with kind intentions, can often seem cruel.
I was sixteen years old, working at an amusement park, when I met Joe. He was older, had long, blond hair, and drove a motorcycle. The first time he called I smiled so hard my cheeks ached by the end of the conversation. He soon became my first boyfriend.
We dated the entire summer. By early fall he had said, “I love you.” I said nothing. In the battle between kindness and honesty, honesty won.
In the months following our breakup, Joe left love notes on my bedroom windowsill. In college, he called twice. The first time we talked. The second time, he left a distraught voice mail. I returned his call and left a short message. I never heard from him again.
Several years later his sister called with news: Joe had committed suicide, months ago. Shortly before his death, his sister said, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Joe had written a few lines about me in his suicide note, but only now had she gathered the strength to call.
I thought about the first time Joe called, how my cheeks ached. The ache had returned—but this time, it was something much deeper. Not wanting to cry at work, I ran to my car and sobbed, both the finality of what he had done—and the fact that he had thought of me, even briefly, before he did it—sinking in. Once home, I reread his love letters to me. It was then I wanted so desperately to take back my silence, to tell him I loved him—not in a romantic sense, but in a you-deserve-to-live-a-long-life sense.
A few days later I went to a party on what would have been Joe’s twenty-seventh birthday to celebrate his life. I met his family. I looked at old photos. I was intrigued to hear about the man he had become; we could have been great friends.
I hated myself for choosing honesty over kindness, for not writing more, for not calling more, for not doing more. I wasn’t so bold as to think I could have fixed him. Rather, I was sad that I had to be unkind and tell him I didn’t love him.
Several days later, worried I would never find peace, I reread what Joe wrote to me in his note: “How people should be . . . wonderful and I’m glad I had the time with her—still I have a wonderful feeling inside.”
It was then I realized that Joe thought my honesty was kind. His words to me were his way of telling me so, his way of being honest—and kind—to me.
A year later, on what would have been Joe’s twenty-eighth birthday, my husband and I put flowers by his grave. I thanked him for a lesson I’ll always hold dear: I can be honest and still be kind.
Kara Gebhart Uhl is a freelance writer and editor who blogs about raising her daughter and twin boys at pleiadesbee.com. Her essay, "Apologies to the Parents I Judged Four Years Ago" was named one of TIME's Top 10 Opinions of 2012.
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