I’ve been agonizing over whether I should have an honest, open talk with a dear, dear friend. It’s a difficult decision to make. You want to know your thoughts will be received in the way they are intended and, your friend needs to really trust you.
Fortunately, I have a close friend whom I know will always be absolutely honest with me and I treasure her. I know I can share any thought with her and can always ask her opinion when I am at a loss myself. I love her and trust her completely. I am grateful for all my friends, but am particularly grateful for her.
Nonetheless, at times other people may ask for an “honest” opinion about something they are doing, but I’ve learned to be careful about that. Many don’t want an honest opinion at all. Often they are hoping for us to say that whatever they are doing is absolutely wonderful — and nothing else. If you suspect this to be the case, run away from it as fast as you can!
Years ago I was employed by a man who knew I had extensive experience in his field. He welcomed me into his firm warmly, said how delighted he was to have me, and asked me to be sure to let him know if there was anything he was doing that could be improved. I believed him. When I did see his business was losing thousands of dollars by a most cumbersome, delayed billing practice, I said so. His response?
“How dare you suggest that after my running this business for 35 years you know better than I do?” He was furious! Obviously, he just wanted me to tell him he was a brilliant business-man who did everything perfectly right. I did see other wasteful and costly methods within his organization afterwards, but had learned my lesson. I kept quiet about it.
As a writer, time and again I have been asked to read someone’s book, memoir, play, etc. Invariably, the author believes the work to be excellent, that it could never be improved in any way, shape or form, and the whole world is breathlessly awaiting his/her masterpiece. No matter how diplomatic I have tried to be, my comments, or suggestions were most often met with sometimes repressed, but evident resentment. I don’t do it anymore.
If you are asked for your opinion in such matters and want to make (and keep) friends and influence people, decline, decline, decline! Say no! Say you have no time, that you are going up into space on the next mission and are therefore busy with astronautical training or something — anything, but get out of it. Once I understood just what was expected, I no longer agreed to do it. I now refuse all such requests, so don’t ask.
Honesty….how to explain the word? Sometimes those who say they will be honest with you don’t have good intentions at all. Sometimes what they really want to do is hit you on the head — hard, with an umbrella or a bat, but since physical violence is not acceptable, they’ll hurt you instead with devastating “honest” words. This kind of “honesty” can cut to the core.
The subject of honesty is a terribly complex one. We teach our children not to lie. We punish them if we catch them at it. Our society frowns on compulsive liars and those who are chronically dishonest, and rightly so. Yet, the naked truth can be so hurtful and damaging in some people’s hands, it can be used as a knife with which to pierce the heart. How to deal with the whole confusing concept?
In the oh-so-successful novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden, Sayuri, the protagonist (a beautiful geisha) has just been reminded she is aging — which is true. Her response? ”There are good facts and bad facts. The bad facts are best avoided.” Sayuri, of course, knows how old she is and doesn’t need to be told.
Authors whose work has offended others enough to be banned are particularly interesting, and John Dryden (1631-1700) whose comedy “The Kind Keeper” was banned during the Restoration, is thus someone I find intriguing. His thoughts on the topic of truth? “I never saw any good that came of telling truth.” I also love what William Blake, (1757-1827) the multi-gifted English poet, painter and engraver, put so well: “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.”
Who can discuss the truth without referring to one of my favorite authors, the incomparable Oscar Wilde, who has given me endless hours of pleasure both at the theatre and curled up with a book. Wilde didn’t much believe in telling the truth at all. He said: “The telling of beautiful untrue things is the proper aim of Art.” (The Decay of Lying) and “He would be the best of fellows if he did not always speak the truth.” (The Sphinx Without a Secret).
We do require another word to replace the word “lie”, when lying is a kindness. What is wrong with being considerate and kind and refraining from hurting others with painful, even if factual, truths? In most cases, the “truth” is known anyway and we don’t need to rub it in. Some of the meanest, deepest and most agonizing hurts are delivered under the pretext of “truth”.
We also can use yet another word for a different meaning of the “truth”. The great American writer and libertarian, Thoreau, said “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” He was talking about something totally different when he wrote about that oh-so complicated word which has so many different meanings, both positive and negative.
How confusing can this language of ours get????