On Being Honest

At what age do you get a license to be honest with people? I mean, really honest. My 90 year old grandmother says what she wants. My 65 year old father says what he wants, so much so that he pisses people off in the process. I’ve occasionally known younger people who have said what they want (aside from children, who seem to always say what’s on their mind), but it seems few and far between. When it comes to expressing your honest feelings about somebody, why are we unable to?

That brings us to another issue. Do we have the right to say exactly what we think to people? Can we tell them the “truth”? What if our idea of “truth” is really just our own subjective thoughts and we don’t actually have a defined, universal “truth”?

When it comes to being up front with people, I feel like it’s an on-going cost-benefit analysis. Most of the time we choose to swallow what we really want to say to them out of fear of escalating the situation.

I’m not going to necessarily tell my employers what I really think about them, especially if they’re writing my evaluation that year.

I’m not able to tell my mother what I really think about some a lot of the lame things she does for fear of causing World War III.

I can’t tell my neighbors I hate their non-stop barking ankle biters, or when they block my driveway with their trailer. You worry that if you say something they’ll get offended and it will ruin all the good parts of our neighborly relationship.

I realize I’m not honest with a lot of people about what I think or feel out of fear that they will get mad/hurt/annoyed/offended/fill-in-the-blank.

A younger version of me might have. Okay, I would have. I had no problem telling my friend when she was being a bitch. Older Me doesn’t have time for the drama that will ensue after these grievances are aired publicly, and somehow Older Me developed a filter to avoid the Leaky Mouth Syndrome.

It’s a good and a bad thing. Good that I’m not pissing people off left and right. Bad that I have to suffer with the frustration of not expressing what I really want to say to people who are encroaching on my boundaries.

i have a friend from high school who just doesn’t accept responsibility for her reality. She’s made a string of bad decisions in her life resulting in her present situation, which includes being an overweight, bitter-before-her-time single mother. When she inquires about how to find a date, I have to bite my tongue. How do you tell somebody that she needs to get healthy, change her personality, and get out there to meet someone instead of waiting for Prince Charming to ride up to her apartment on his white horse?

You can’t, right?

My husband claims this is a female problem (in this particular case). He swears guys would just say “hey dude, what the hell are you going to do about it?”

I don’t know if that is true or not, but I know my husband won’t tell his sister when he’s mad at something she’s said or done, and he won’t tell his in-laws when he thinks they’ve crossed the line. So I know the issue of male vs. female. This is a universal problem.

I feel like one day I’m going to go off on this particular friend and in a fit of rage (which is really something like twenty years of built-up frustration), all of the anger that will surely ooze out of my mouth will obscure the truth of the words I speak, making it less likely that she’ll take me seriously. And then it would have all been said in vain and nothing would get accomplished except for wounded feelings and maybe a broken friendship, which at this point I’m so frustrated with her lack of initiative to make good choices I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing.

Why have we created this world where we can’t be honest with people out of fear that we’ll be burning bridges?

I get mixed advice. Some people (like my dad) tell me to “be a good friend.” Just listen and be supportive. Easy for them to say since they don’t have to be surrounded by the bullshit. Others say f-them, time to be brutally honest. Some say that if you don’t tell the person what you’re upset about, they’ll never know what they are doing wrong. I worry that if I tell people what bothers me, they won’t believe it and it will just make everything awkward between us.

I’m not sure I have any answers this evening, but something did occur to me.

1) Are your boundaries being violated by the individual in question? Will their behavior hurt you or somehow be a serious detriment in your life? Does their behavior distract from your goals, cause you significant stress, or in any other way negatively impact your life? If yes, you need to communicate your position to them.

2) Are their behaviors happening consistently, becoming a regular problem for you to deal with? If yes, you need to communicate your position to them.

In conclusion, if our boundaries are crossed and we are uncomfortable and having negative feelings, then we know we can’t stand for it and we need to communicate. The stress we experience results from the indecisiveness of whether or not to put up with somebody’s bad behavior or whether we should do something to stop them from bringing us down. They may not like what we have to say, but with a certain dose of diplomacy they will either prove that they are either mature adults who values your friendship or an immature person with no shame and/or grasp of social calibration.

We all get just one life. Who has time for bullshit?

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