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Friday, March 21, 2014

Honestly?

When someone asks for your honest opinion, do you really give it? I know that lots of people claim to be very honest, but I have my doubts. No, I don't think that most people are liars. I just know that if we were all totally honest all of the time, there would be lots of people with hurt feelings, at the very least, as well as lots of people with very few friends. Think about it. Let's say you go to Aunt Gertrude's for dinner and she proudly serves her signature dessert, something so rich and cloyingly sweet it almost makes you choke. When she says, "Look what I made!" you kindly say how lovely it is, and what a special treat it is. You don't tell her that it's just too much and you can't bear to eat it. You claim to be too full from the delicious meal to eat another bite. Because saying how you really feel at that moment would be unnecessarily cruel. Not only would you hurt Auntie Gert's feelings, you'd be robbing her of the joy of lovingly preparing something special.

And here's another thing to think about, and strike terror into your heart. When your spouse/significant other/friend/cousin or whomever asks if this outfit makes them look fat, how totally honest are you? No, you don't want them to be embarrassed, but you also don't want them to be emotionally crushed when you tell them that as a matter of fact, it does. To say nothing of the way they will react to such brutally honest feedback. 

Years ago I trained a young woman who claimed that she was always completely truthful when someone asked for her honest opinion. I told her it couldn't possibly be true. She said that yes, it was, and in fact, she often came across as cruel because of her honesty. She told me that she had another job at a retail store that sold clothing by a specific women's wear designer. You know, one of those shops where the largest size available is maybe a six. One day a woman was trying on some clothing and picked sweet-looking Mindy to be the person she'd ask the question, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" Mindy answered, "No, your butt makes your butt look big." And Mindy wasn't trying to be cruel. She was just an example of the description "brutally honest." Mindy was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet. She just didn't know how to be untruthful.

Some time after I heard this story from Mindy, my friend and coworker Danielle went shopping during lunch and bought some new pants. She told me that she knew I was a kind person, but she wanted someone to give her a truly honest opinion about the pants. I made sure that she meant it, and she said absolutely, she wanted someone to be honest enough to prevent her being embarrassed if they didn't look good. So we went out in the hall, her in the pants that fit like a second skin, and she walked away from me to the other end of the hall. They were not flattering. When she walked back and asked my opinion, I said, "Well, Dani, I was going to ask you if you were allergic to bees, 'cause those pants make you look like a bee stung your bottom." She burst out laughing as she hugged me and kissed my cheek. She was afraid they fit that way, but didn't have anyone at the store with her whose opinion she trusted. With my humorous but lovingly honest opinion to reinforce what she was afraid of, she returned the bee-sting pants to the store, and saved herself feeling embarrassed.

So, yes, if someone really wants an honest, or even painfully honest opinion, I will go for it, but as gently as possible, or with a touch of humor. But if they are kind enough to give me one of their famous handmade chocolate-covered, so sweet that you'll die if you eat it, Easter egg candies, I will thank them profusely for giving me such a thoughtful gift. They have put a lot of their time and energy into making this delicious treat, something I loved as a kid, but not as much after I grew up. I will take a bite and tell them honestly that it is rich and delicious, and that I can't possibly eat it all at once. I will nibble on it a bit at a time, and the taste of the love they put in it will mellow the incredible sweetness. And I will know that I have truly learned what tempering honesty with kindness is all about. It's the gift of respect and love.




A note from Katrina: I will not be getting one of those Easter eggs this year, and haven't in several years. For several years we had no contact with one another, and now the person who made them is no longer among us. But I will always appreciate the labor of love that she performed when she made her famous chocolate-covered Easter eggs. If she offered me one today, I would accept it with gratitude.