Honesty is not always the best policy.
I’m sitting here, feeling the wrath of a sore throat – and impending cold that follows – in addition to gearing up to work at least the next 24 hours straight. I have a hot cup of Teavana tea with plenty of honey next to my computer. Recent events have lead me to think a lot about honesty and what it means to be authentic. Here’s a little dive into my brainwaves…
I think of one particular childhood story when I think about honesty. When I was around 13 years of age, I was babysitting my then 5-year-old brother while my mom was away. I remember hearing a crash from the other room and running over to find my brother standing over a broken mug on the kitchen floor. He had tears in his eyes and that well-known look of fear a child gets when they know they are in trouble. I quickly checked to make sure he was ok, and then proceeded to clean up the mess. I kneeled in front of his tearful face and told him that I had cleaned everything up so he didn’t have to tell Mom and get into trouble. A short while later, I hear my mom walk into the house and my brother immediately runs up to her and tells her he broke a glass. Granted, he was 5 years old, but the fact is that even when I told him that he would get into trouble if he told our mom, he felt compelled to tell her the truth regardless of the consequences. This story has always stuck with me. He didn’t get into trouble, mostly because he was a kiddo, but I also think partly because he told her the truth.
I recently had a chance to be honest with someone, and was met with anger and pettiness. The interesting part was that they themselves said that they wanted full honesty. That is the strange part about the concept. It is generally negative and is rarely received well. I’m sure there are ways to be honest in a positive way, but I have not found a productive way to make that happen consistently. It also takes a level of maturity that many don’t fully possess. Honesty breeds resentment. Our natural instincts tell us to become defensive if we are not pleased with what is happening to us. It doesn’t matter whether the statements were true, or that you were being honest. It is about how that honesty is received. At least, that is my experience.
As an adult, and as a doctor, I have found honesty to be difficult, and have been trying a different approach. Honesty doesn’t get you far, but authenticity can make a huge difference. Living with genuine, real thoughts is important. They will not always be positive or uplifting, but those negative thoughts are important to share if it will help someone else (hopefully) become a better person.
It is a matter of framing your opinion. I found this most useful in my line of work. As you can imagine, if we are honest with every patient, it would often end in disagreement and non-productivity. Instead of saying, “I can’t believe you are still smoking after we have talked about this and you know smoking is bad for you … ” which seems accusatory and not compassionate, saying “we have discussed your smoking before and I can tell it must be difficult to quit, but I hope we can continue to work on this together”. They are both true statements, one more directly honest. In the latter, you take the onis off of the patient and make it about “us”. Along with authenticity comes the empathy. You don’t feel bad or angry at someone else, you take their struggles at face value and go from there.
I would like to pride myself in giving everyone a fair chance. You don’t always know someone else’s struggles, so how can you judge them? That being said, it becomes very clear the “type” of person you are dealing with, and that can frame the rest of your interactions with them. It’s part of my job, gauging another person’s emotions and intentions fairly quickly, and I’m getting pretty good at it (if I do say so myself). I don’t generally harbor negative feelings towards someone, unless they have given me a reason to. By allowing myself to remain hopeful and genuine, I can allow myself to understand the other person and what their perspectives are. It becomes a collaboration, rather than a competition.
Give the idea of authenticity a try the next time you feel compelled to be “honest” with someone. Speak from the heart and don’t let emotions cloud your opinions. Easier said than done, I know.
Frame your thoughts in a positive way and see how it makes a difference.
Until next time,