Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Blunt Truths Do Mischief

We hear a whole lot about the importance of honesty, but less about tact.

 

Sometimes we need to be tactful and sometimes we need to keep our mouths shut. An anonymous commentor on this site, responding to a blog about secret-keeping, makes an excellent point about aggressive truth-telling and sent quotes from William Blake, Alexander Pope, and Alfred Adler.

 Listen to Blake,

 "A truth that's told with bad intent

Beats all the lies you can invent".

 And Alexander Pope:

 Tis not enough your counsel still be true;

Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do"

 And psychologist Alfred Adler:

 "The truth is an awful weapon of aggression.

It is possible to lie, and even to murder, with the truth."

 A rule of thumb is to be absolutely sure you aren't lying to yourself before you decide to tell the "truth" to some poor deluded soul. Since it is difficult--if not impossible logically--to know whether you are lying to yourself this rule would go a long way to restrain bluntness--maybe too far. We might never be able to speak again! Another rule might to consider whether your timing is good. If you don't just spit it out because you feel the need to, you may not spit it out at all.  

I personally love giving advice and pride myself on being a truth-teller...and I've never quite understood the other point of view, that values discretion above all.

But I'm learning.  

I've lost at least three people I didn't want to lose by telling them what I was thinking. Even after much reflection and time, I don't feel that my thoughts were "wrong." But that isn't the point. I would prefer to still be in touch with them. I hurt myself. I might console myself that they "learned" from me, but I doubt it. And even if they did, it wasn't worth it. 

 

 

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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