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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  To Tell the Truth
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Monday, August 9,2021

To Tell the Truth

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
Our culture is too polite. Yep, I said that. It may sound counterintuitive in this age of political division characterized by name-calling and absolute vitriol. But that is a different arena altogether. Peoples’ allegiance to their own viewpoint, tweeting and retweeting, is a circus of Barnum and Bailey proportions. Zero growth happens in that arena. I’m talking about our daily interactions with actual humans.

From strangers to colleagues, to intimate friends, partners, and family members… our peeps. Too polite.

I do have some anecdotal international research to support my claim. For about 10 years we had a French exchange student spend summers with us to learn English. One of the first things she noticed was how much we smiled and how “strange” it felt to her. She shared that in Paris, you can always tell an American because they smile “too much” and they wear tennis shoes with their “trousers.” Also, apparently, we have very white teeth. (The better to smile with, my dear!) A second example comes from time I spent at Oxford University in England a few years ago. I recall feeling a bit like people didn’t like me. Over dinner I would try to engage in “polite” conversation only to be either ignored or to receive a slight nod and a “hmph” sound. But if someone brought up politics or religion they were all in. Aren’t we taught not to discuss those things in polite company? Indeed. It was actually refreshing to hear true discourse where parties disagree, but are not trying to change anyone’s mind or berate someone who disagrees.

They were just telling it like they see it.

Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes with age, but I believe more and more that the truth, even if it hurts, is kind. It may not feel polite, but in the long run it saves time, builds character and fosters authenticity. Being honest is not about being impolite. It is about being real. Humans are imperfect. Going around acting like everything is perfect so we don’t ruffle feathers perpetuates our collective anxiety that results from our inner knowing that we are anything but. You know those dreams where you are in a class and realize you haven’t attended all semester and now you have to take the final? Or you show up at work with no clothes on? I’m sure you have your own version…. Imposter Syndrome!

A good friend, business partner, spouse, or otherwise person-you-spend-a lot-of time-with is one who will tell it to you straight. One of my dear friends exercised this philosophy about 20 years before midlife and was cast aside by some as “brutal.” But I appreciated her even then, and continue to learn from her. When we were in our thirties, I was commiserating with her about how difficult it was to lose the baby weight while working full time, going to school, and raising two small children. She observed, “It’s all a matter of priorities. It is either important to us, or it isn’t. There are no excuses, only priorities.” Ouch. I expected the polite response affirming my dilemma and inviting me to join her in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s because “we deserve it.” She didn’t afford herself or me that luxury. She called it as she saw it, and I rearranged my priorities the next day. The truth hurt, but it was better than gorging on self-pity and fries.

My friend gave me the courage to be the same kind of person. Truth telling connects us to another’s heart.

Done with compassion, it says, “I see something in you that I see in myself. We are both imperfect.” Likewise, when the truth is that the person rocks it in their career, that outfit, their performance…. the receiver will know, coming from you, that words of praise are meaningful. Though affirmations ought to come first from within, it is always nice to hear that others appreciate our own special magic.


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