Being Blunt Isn't the Same Thing as Being Honest -- True Honesty is Kind

Megan Holstein

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You’re with a friend. You make a comment or a joke that’s a little off-color, but you hope your friend will take it the right way.

She doesn’t. She’s upset. She asks you to please be a little more considerate around her.

You internally roll your eyes and say one of the following things:

How can I be myself around you if I have to watch what I say?
So what, I have to censor myself?
I’m just being honest. That’s who I am. If you don’t like it, don’t hang out with me.

You’re being an asshole. (And you’re not even being honest, either).

Honesty is not mutually incompatible with kindness. Honesty means to tell the truth as you see it. The truth is not always unkind. In fact, the truth is usually not unkind.

For instance, if your girlfriend looks beautiful in the dress she’s wearing, and she asks “how do I look?” And you tell her “beautiful, sweetheart,” you are being honest.

If the dress your girlfriend is wearing is completely unflattering and makes her top half look bizarre and deformed, and she asks you “how do I look?” And you say “You’d look beautiful in anything to me, but that dress doesn’t flatter you at all,” you are being honest.

If you responded “man, that dress makes you look like shit,” you are not being honest.

Wait, what?

Maybe that’s rude, but at least it’s honest, right?

No. Unless you’re telling me you look at your girlfriend and think she looks like shit, then it’s not honest. You just think that that outfit looks bad. She doesn’t look like shit, and she’s your girlfriend, so it’s hard for anything to look like shit on her. That’s what love does to our perception; it makes us think the people we love don’t look like shit.

(If you truly look at your girlfriend and think she looks like shit, you need a different girlfriend).

When you tell your woman she looks like shit, you’re not being ‘blunt’ and ‘honest.’ In fact, you’re overstating the situation, which is dishonest.

I don’t know why you’re doing that, but here are a few sample reasons:

  • You feel stupid and vulnerable when you say nice things, so you shy away from that as much as possible.
  • You aren’t paying enough attention to the situation to give it that sort of nuanced assessment.
  • You pride yourself on being ‘blunt’ and ‘honest,’ so you overstate the negative of the situation to maintain that image.

Honesty also presumes there is ‘one truth’ of the situation that is the truth, when situations are always more complicated than that.

In the previous example, your girlfriend may have selected an unflattering dress, but her hair, jewelry, and poise are all fantastic. Her makeup is done excellently. When you tell her her dress is unflattering, you are being honest, but you are not sharing all these other honest observations. For every honest thought we share, there are a dozen more we choose not to share. That’s not being shady, that’s just a fact of life. Part of maturing is learning what to leave said and leave unsaid, because something always goes unsaid.

This means that you can be considerate in choosing what to say without sacrificing honesty. If you know she loves that dress and that there is no point trying to tell her it’s unflattering, you can say “your hair/makeup/shoes look great” and you are still being honest.

But isn’t that withholding something from her? Wouldn’t she want to know?

Depends. If your woman is the kind of woman who wants to look good for you, she might want to know you don’t love that dress ass much. If your woman loves that dress and you know pointing out its unflattering will just make her annoyed with you, maybe not.

And in the first scenario, she would want to know her makeup looks great. Still, you chose not to share that in the first scenario, and you didn’t have any worries about dishonesty or white lies.

My point is just to illustrate that declining to point it out is not dishonest. It becomes dishonesty, or a white lie, when you are withholding something you know the other person would like to know.

(Thought experiment: Every time we don’t compliment our partners, is it a white lie?)

I used to be one of those people that prided themselves on their honesty. I was frequently rude, to people’s faces and behind their back. Since I didn’t feel anything negative for people, I thought my friends were lucky to have someone honest like me who is their friend to tell them what no one else will.

I was hiding behind a facade. When I complimented people or said something nice about my friends, I felt vulnerable (although I didn’t realize it). If I was a kind, nice, and supportive friend, and they hurt me, it would break my heart. But if I was a negative asshole-sort, and they left, I could shrug it off by saying either “they can’t handle me for who I am” or on a better day, “I was an asshole anyway, it’s no big deal.”

Instead of having to be afraid that no one would love me for who I am, I was an asshole so that I could be sure no one would love me for who I am.

This strategy also came with the side benefit of thinking if someone was my friend despite the fact that I’m an asshole, then I knew they were a true friend. In real life, this does not hold up. Much like how a gang of alcoholics who drink together are not necessarily friends, a gang of assholes who roll together are not necessarily friends either.

Nothing I said while being an asshole was literally untrue. I didn’t spread lies. But by framing everything in the most negative light, I was being dishonest. I was presenting my friends as the worst version of themselves, to myself and to others.

In fact, they are not the worst versions of themselves, because their positive qualities overwhelm their negative ones. It’s dishonest of me to act otherwise.

In sum, if you or anyone you know is the sort of person who uses “honesty” and “bluntness” to justify saying hurtful things, it’s a crap justification.

People who are frequently negative and rude are not ‘honest’ (unless you have a depressingly pessimistic view of the world). People who are frequently negative and rude are negative and rude.

If you ever find yourself justifying a comment using the theme of honesty, stop and consider that maybe you’re not being honest, you’re being mean instead.

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Self-help writer with 3M+ views on Medium and Quora. Covering personal growth, relationship skills, and career growth.

Columbus, OH
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