One of the most rewarding aspects of educating young people is that they have no filters and say exactly what is on their minds. Adults can learn something powerful from this gift, especially because we generally allow politics, prejudices or preconceptions to block our free speech.
Some of us appear to be more proficient at stating what we believe. Recently, a friend remarked, “One of the things I know about you is that if I ask your opinion on a subject, I’ll get exactly how you feel.” This is a major compliment to me. If I have a reputation of being forthcoming and sincere, I’m happy.
Adults demonstrate the same behavior as kids when you ask a question and their answers are dishonest or incomplete. They will start blinking or look elsewhere, fidget with their hands or stammer. Of course, these mannerisms don’t always indicating lying. Some have discomfort with voicing opinions at any time, on any subject. And some want time to reflect or construct an answer, regardless of the question.
While I’m not recommending brutal honesty, I’m suggesting that tact can make sincerity work without pain. Here’s an example:
Ask someone to tell you how they feel about your new hairstyle. If the response is “Oh, it’s just fine,” you can wonder if they are telling the truth. But if you get, “The style is really good. You may want to think about making the sides a bit shorter,” I know that they have truly spent some time and care on the answer. In the first case, analysis wasn’t there. In fact, if someone says, “I hate your hair – it’s too short,” I would value that more than a prefabricated and potentially insincere statement.
Why do we have so much trouble articulating how we really feel? It may be a fear of consequences. It may be a deep-seated conviction that no-one really cares about our opinions. Or maybe we begin telling small lies and eventually lose the distinction between truth and fiction.
At no time do I use honesty as an excuse to hurt others. My answer is either tactful or phrased as something constructive. “Have I been good today?” asks a difficult student. “I can see that you’re working hard on being the best student. Please keep doing what you’re doing.”
My hope is that we can learn more honesty than deception as a society. Shalom.