“So you’re always honest,” I said.
“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.”
“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.