Tell Nothing But The Truth

30 Jul

I remember, in first grade, I put a bright yellow sticker on another kid’s art project. I smoothed the happy face the size of a silver dollar right on it. I don’t know why; I just did. I had no idea it would be as big of a deal as it turned out to be: the kid cried, our teacher was furious and the whole class was forced to stay in for recess for a whole week, until someone confessed to the defacement of property. I never said anything. I never got in trouble and it never mattered.

Fast forward. After a difficult transition at work, my supervisor asked me how I feel about her. I stared into her eyes and I told her the truth. Well, the truth did not set me free; if anything, it has sufficiently muddied the waters. My truth effectively offended her and changed the dynamic between us for the foreseeable future.  I could actually see her bristle as my words evaporated into the air. But, I told the truth! Is that still the right thing to do, IS honesty the best policy?

Now, I have ruffled feathers, and for what? For some sort of phantom virtue police? Was I expecting a pat on the back for my directness and authenticity? A trophy in the mail for my sincerity? Well, no one feels better, least of all me.

Who does honesty benefit anyway? Does it ever turn out well for someone to reveal something that is painful? Why do it then? What motivates us to tell the truth? If anything it is the lies that save your ass.

How many times have you told someone they look great when they don’t, told someone you were busy when you weren’t, said you were seeing someone when you definitely weren’t? And who was the worse for it? No one. In fact, it spared feelings and probably helped you skip over a bunch of unneeded drama.

Do we need lies to navigate safely through life? To buffer and soften the blows that can make things complicated? Is lying the adult thing to do?

Maybe as we grow older, candor is replaced by discretion and honesty is no longer appropriated to the public sphere. It’s not that it is necessarily punishable, more like frowned upon. It’s rude, or dramatic, inappropriate, or just plain unnecessary. Telling the truth becomes self-serving. Why tell the truth when you can smooth things over? Don’t rock the boat.

Think about couples that have been married 50+ years, old and gray and still happy… I bet you hear a whole lot of “Yes, Dear” in their house and I’ll bet my right arm it’s not always truthful. Happy wife, happy life. What my husband doesn’t know won’t hurt him. When did we all turn into such liars? And why didn’t I get the memo?

Ever since my omission of the truth in the first grade and an unfortunate situation where I stole a pen from my neighbor in second, I have been relatively honest since. I’m definitely not saying I always am, but for the most part. After I stole the pen, I was forced to return it and apologize. It was probably one of the top 10 worst moments of my life. I felt horrible, tears streamed down my face as I told my neighbor, Larry, what I had done. I relinquished the pen to its rightful owner. I told him I stole his pen because I really liked it and I was very sorry. Of course, he didn’t really care and in retrospect I think he thought it was a little cute. But in the moment, I was completely distraught. The guilt was overwhelming. What did these situations teach me? Lie. Bad. Truth. Good. But does this still hold true? Are there still only the two extremes to choose from? Do the rules change with adulthood?

The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t know then and I certainly don’t now. I was wrong about the pen and I was wrong at work. Maybe the only thing I was right about was keeping my mouth shut about the sticker. Maybe silence is the new ideal, the middle ground between the truth and the lie. Would the world be a better place if we all just kept all things controversial to ourselves? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. You know, that whole bit.

Perhaps with adulthood, comes the realization that your personal truth may not be everyone else’s. Not all situations necessitate one’s vocalization of “the truth”. Not everyone needs to know how you feel; it’s OK to keep it to yourself. Did I think my opinion would somehow enact change, trigger an epiphany or be met with applause and a Nobel Prize for my contribution to the world? Well…yeah. Not really all that, but I thought it was important at the time. Turns out, it wasn’t.

With my next day at work only a very short, menacing 36 hours away, I’m dreading facing the music. Walking through the doors and seeing the fall out from my virtuous expression. I’m sure it will be fine; things are never as bad as you think they are. People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think they do.

But, I do know this, from now on, I’m going to keep my damn truth to myself.

© Copyright 2012 hairsprayandhemingway

10 Responses to “Tell Nothing But The Truth”

  1. butimbeautiful July 30, 2012 at 3:27 am #

    You’re SO right, as I grow up that’s exactly what I’ve realised – firstly, that lies are necessary up to a point, and secondly, that truth is subjective. i think you were brave to tell your supervisor the truth, I’d never dare! Mind you, i guess if you frame it right, it might go down alright. Another saying I like though, is that ‘lies show the weakness in the liar’ and i do think that’s true too.

    • hairsprayandhemingway July 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      Well put! I think you’re right; truth is subjective, but that, I believe, is in great opposition to what most people are taught.
      I really like that saying as well: “lies show the weakness in the liar”. I hadn’t heard that before. Thanks for sharing!

  2. amb July 30, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    It can be so tricky to balance the truth with other people’s feelings! I struggle with that a lot, too. I think it’s harder for us girls in a lot of ways as well, because we worry about coming off as aggressive or b*tchy or whatever…I get the sense that most guys don’t feel the same sort of angst about truth-telling.

    • hairsprayandhemingway July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      I didn’t think about Amb, but it’s true! Men most certainly do not have an issue with being blunt or honest, like many women do. I think that’s because it’s considered an extremely positive quality for men to be direct and strong-willed. With women, gender constructions can cause people to view them as b*tchy or aggressive for virtually the same behavior.

  3. litlove August 2, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    I think my all time favourite maxim is: The truth will set you free – but first it will piss you off. I imagine your supervisor is in the second part of that saying at the moment, but a time will come when the value of your truth will become apparent. You will probably never know about it, but it will happen, if the supervisor is open to learning. As for going forward, well, it’s probably about judging how much truth you can tell and still have the other person hear it. The truth is very powerful, so you don’t want to give up on it – just treat its power gently.

    • hairsprayandhemingway August 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      litlove–

      Thank you for your insightful and eloquent comment!
      And you were right…the truth is powerful.
      I think it’s the gentle part I may want to craft a bit more. 😉

  4. Anthony August 2, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Well, what you did in first grade is something most children would do. Even though you didn’t get in trouble, I see that it has taught you something. Truth is always the best policy but practicing silence when at all possible when a delicate situation, such as your talk with your supervisor, really needs to be weighed out. Always pick your battles and be aware that the outcome, whether truth is said or not may not lead to your ideal outcome.

    • hairsprayandhemingway August 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      That is good advice! Geez, being an adult is complicated!!
      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment.

  5. livvy1234 August 26, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    I am working on staying in the grey zone. Sometimes, I need to speak my truth, and sometimes I need to keep it to myself. When my gut feeling tells me that I am feeling resentment, then I need to explore these feelings and articulate them as best I can.

    • hairsprayandhemingway August 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      livvy1234, the grey zone is such a difficult aspiration! I’m working on that as well. 🙂

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