Honesty is the best policy.” I believe this to be a sound statement, yet what I consider to be equally powerful is the way in which the truth is expressed. In general, I perceive us as a people that shy away from saying what we really mean; it gets muddled with the eagerness to spare feelings and the desire to please everyone. As I observe the people around me and attempt to dig deeper into their lives based on the short interaction I am subject to, it becomes more obvious to me that this scourge of so-called -decency is plaguing us one-by-one. I feel surrounded by situations in which confusion is created, questions are left unanswered, and feelings are hurt more so than ever upon the exposure of the truths, that –lets face it – always come out.
“Does this dress make me look fat?” Now, whether you are male or female, this is dangerous question that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. My philosophy is: if you don’t want to know, don’t ask. Yet I have to think about what I’d want in response if I were ever to purposely jump in front of that firing squad. You’re just asking for trouble! But as guilty as everyone else, I turn to toward this person, and fearing what I really think may cost us our friendship, I respond with “…no! Honey, they had you in mind when they designed that dress”, when what I really mean is “… it would look great if you were still in high school. But, since you’re on a first-name-basis with the pizza delivery guy, and your metabolism has slowed to that of a 90 year old woman, you might want to search for something less form-fitting; preferably in black!!” Then, grasping at straws, and thinking that praying may actually make a difference, I ask God to burn a hole in the dress before she has a chance to swipe her credit card.
At her expense I had shifted toward a deluded state of heroism in which I had swooped in, wearing a bright, red cape, while inspiring music played in the background, and saved her delicate feelings from experiencing any pain. These unfortunate moments of self-deception cause a rift in the process by which my thoughts become words, and my initial instinct to be blunt is melted into a drippy articulation of word mush, suited to the current situation.
As an attempt to turn this into a life-lesson, this lack of communication has made me more aware of my own actions, especially having gotten married just a few months ago. I have learned on more than one occasion that honesty – in every circumstance – is extremely important to my husband. Now, until being encouraged into this state of self reflection, I had always considered myself to be a fairly honest person; never a fan of playing games, always quick to use brutal sarcasm; I have put many a man in his place with a knack for speaking my mind. But that ‘strength’ has been challenged as a result of living with someone who notices the laundry shoved under the bed, who isn’t fooled by my claims of being a ‘health nut’ when he knows exactly where I keep my stash of cookies, and who sees exactly what I look like first thing in the morning.
There isn’t much room to hide anything, yet I find this moderately surprising level of honesty to be a breath of fresh air. Finally, I don’t have to hold back. I can be who want to be, and to skip that hurdle that would occasionally threaten to interrupt the thought-to-verbal process; all without worrying that I’m going to offend him. I can ask his opinion about my ‘fat clothes’, if he likes the white-woman-afro I’ve recently adopted, and know he will at least keep me from an embarrassing situation I wouldn’t be able to join in laughing about. I know there isn’t food stuck in my teeth and, if he has anything to say about it, nothing will hang freely from my nose.
Recently he shared with me that he doesn’t like it when I leave a dirty dishes in the sink. It was a simple, verbal statement. He didn’t try to make his point by returning the act in retaliation, or serving dinner along side last nights crusted-on chicken; and in response, I didn’t warrant any hurt or annoyed feelings by the life-altering newsflash that I actually do things that bother him. Instead, I thank him for the trust he has shown me. He knows I will not “freak out” and drown my bruised ego in a bucket of Ben and Jerry’s whenever he feels the need to share something with me. We can avoid the issues of wounded feelings by keeping the doors of communication open. It starts with the small things, which will later prepare me to react accordingly in bigger matters.
This situation in my life has given me and understanding that empowers me to eliminate the ‘gray area’ (so dubbed as the ‘need to please’) that has kept me from being straight forward in the past; where I would have taken the path of avoiding confrontation, assuming that in the meantime feelings are being spared and everyone is happy.
I’m giving effectively communicated honesty a chance.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.