To lie or not to lie…

“So you’re always honest,” I said.
“Aren’t you?”
“No,” I told him. “I’m not.”
“Well, that’s good to know, I guess.”
“I’m not saying I’m a liar,” I told him. He raised his eyebrows. “That’s not how I meant it, anyways.”
“How’d you mean it, then?”
“I just…I don’t always say what I feel.”
“Why not?”
“Because the truth sometimes hurts,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “So do lies, though.”
― Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

I posted this back in 2013. Same time of year. I read it this morning, some four years later and it took time to figure out why I was so upset. Who had lied to me? Or, God forbid, had I lied to someone? That said, had this conversation happened in my life, I’d have been him, not her. Give me truth to lies any day. Many years ago, in a flat in Chichester, I was having dinner with a couple of college friends, the lovely Es. We were having a discussion about truth and honesty and I had stated with all the certainty I could muster, which back then was quite a lot, that truth would win out every time. And that even if the person hearing it was hurt, so be it. Better that than lie. RE was a little taken aback that I might hurt someone, deliberately, in my determination to be honest. She was a little bewildered about my certainty that it was the other person’s responsibility to deal with my honesty – not mine. They’d asked for it.  I was simply obliging. I was certain. I’d tell the truth. Uncouched. Unvarnished. Unflailing.

Fast forward a number of years to a classroom in Bangalore where my teacher, the great Dick McHugh, was asking me difficult questions. I’d asked him about this very conversation. We were speaking about this fear I had of being lied to, of my need for complete and total honesty. He suggested that before I answer any question requiring me to be honest, I ask myself – What do I want to achieve? And if I wanted to hurt someone, to offend them, to make them feel small, then by all means, I should dish out the unvarnished truth. But that question should always be asked. And responsibility should always be taken. By me.

Over the years, I’ve softened. I’m not nearly as ornery as I used to be. And while I still find it very difficult to deal with anything other than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I’m not beyond telling a fib if, in the grand scheme of things, the truth won’t help. Does it really matter if I don’t like spaghetti bolognese? If my host has spent the better part of an hour making it from scratch, am I going to sweep the pastiche from under them and tell them anything other than it’s lovely when they ask me how it is? If a random stranger in the fitting rooms asks me what an outfit looks like on her, one that does nothing but accentuate everything she wants to hide, I will temper my previous ‘does absolutely nothing for you’ and offer a milder ‘doesn’t have the wow factor – perhaps another style’.

I’ve often wondered where to draw the line. And whether I’m on a slippery road to always taking the easy way out. So far though, I’m hanging in. I’ve dulled my bluntness and am a tad more considerate of other people’s feelings. That said, if I ask someone to be completely honest with me, then complete honesty is what I expect, warts and all. And I will return the favour.




2015 Grateful 43

What country am I? What food am I? What famous person am I most like? Who gives a flying funicular? As I look at these on Facebook, my cursor hovering over the click here link, I tell myself that I have better things to be doing with my time and that no, I’m not all that curious about how I could be simile’d.

Those better things include going through the heaps of newspaper and magazine clippings of articles I thought worth keeping (and yes, I will some day get around to electronic bookmarking, but not quite yet). I came across a gem earlier today. A column by Mary Kenny in the Irish Independent titled: To see ourselves as others see us (20 December 2014).  In it, she talks about verbal conjugation and how we apply different standards to ourselves than to others.

honest3A few examples:

  • I am diplomatic in what I say / You are economical with the truth / He is a bloody liar
  • I aspire to high standards / You keep up with the Joneses / She’s a roaring snob
  • I am sexually responsive / You are free with your favours / She’s a nymphomaniac

Many years ago, in another lifetime, I did a weekend Enneagram course. I was making a concerted effort back then to discover myself, to see who I really was, to distinguish between the values and principles I’d learned from parents, elders, teachers and friends and those I’d bought into myself. The nine-point personality scale, packaged as it can be in a Cosmo-type quiz, had me hooked.

I was convinced, having read up on it all before the workshop, that I was a Two, i.e., generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive. My main motivation in doing anything was, in my mind, to be helpful. After the weekend, I realised that I was a One: principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic (is that even a word?) and that when I offered to help people, it wasn’t for any reason other than I knew I could do it better and faster than they could. That dimmed the shine on my halo a little.

Fast forward too many years and countless meetings with Enneagram experts and enthusiasts, and I’ve come to accept that I’m actually a Four, i.e., expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental. Apparently I exhibit classic Four behaviour far too often to be anything else.
What the experience taught me was that other people see me a lot differently than I see myself. Mary Kenny might well have something in her verbal conjugations. Occasionally, getting an honest appraisal by someone you trust to be honest with you is no bad thing. Call it a benchmark. Treat it like an annual medical check-up. Whatever. honest12I was on the receiving end of such an appraisal last week and it was quite the experience. I’ve been on the delivery end way more often, so it made a change for me to be the one spluttering excuses. But I trusted the source. And I’ve acted on what was said. And I feel like there is something good around the next bend, over the next page, in the next book. This week heralded the beginning of many ends and as I figure out what next, I’m grateful for those people in my life who do me the honour of being completely honest with me. As the great Oscar Wilde supposedly said:

“But what is the good of friendship if one cannot say exactly what one means? Anybody can say charming things and try to please and to flatter, but a true friend always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true friend he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good.”

I could do without the ‘always’ Oscar; occasionally will do me just fine.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

What would it be like if everyone was completely honest? If we all told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, all the time? Some years ago, I told a boy that the only thing I would ask of him was that he be completely honest with me. All the time. If he screwed around on me, I wanted to hear it from him. He countered by saying that there was no such thing as the absolute truth. That we all make our own truth and shape it to be what we want it to be.  I should have gotten out then. Chalk one up to stupidity, but even in that stupidity I learned a lot.

They say that once you’ve lived in Alaska for two years, you’re not fit to live anywhere else. I lived there for seven. And when I went ‘outside’ again, I found it hard to leave my brand of truth behind. You see, up there, you called it as you saw it. Does this make me look fat? Hell yeah! Do you think he’s having an affair on me? Why else would he be coming out of so and so’s apartment at 2 in the afternoon? You know, you think you’re so much better than everyone else! Me? No. I know I am. There was no limit to this straightforwardness – rows were plentiful but quietened down as soon as they rose up. Nothing was left to fester.

Coming back to the real world, it was hard to make the adjustment. What was that famous Jack Nicholson lineYou can’t handle the truth. No one really wants to hear the truth. If we stop to think about it, most of the time we ask people questions with the expectation that they will tell us exactly what we want to hear – not what we need to hear. A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of applying for a creative writing MA in the UK. I asked a good friend to help me with my application. She pointed out that the writing samples I had chosen weren’t what the university would want. In fact, my writing style wasn’t that creative – it was more documentary. I was gutted. Then.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that she was so right. I don’t have a novel in me – I don’t have that sort of style – I can observe, account, tell a story, but I was confusing creative writing with using English creatively – two completely different birds. Having someone who will tell you the truth – who will be honest with you – who will be direct to the point that it feel as if they’re cutting away a sliver of your soul – that’s a richness money can’t buy. And it’s those true friends to whom we turn when we need to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I was reminded of this recently, when the inimitable RN posted a link to Swedish designer Viktor Hertz and his project called HONEST LOGOs. Hertz re-appropriates well known logos and redoes them to show what he thinks is the actual content and truth behind the company. Worth checking out…