Monday, May 31, 2010

The Ugly Truth

Note: I've been sitting on this post for a while now because I wasn't sure if I really wanted to say all this once I got it out of my system by typing it out. But I'm busy here in the land of Bono, and I figured this would be a good post for y'all to chew on while I get myself situated and work out some kind of schedule. I haven't proofread it in over a month, so I can't vouch for its total quality but I do recall being mostly happy with it last time I read through it. So, here goes. No rotten fruit, please.

A preface: I’m probably going to sound like a hypocrite here. I am not always sweetness and light in my blog, and I don’t doubt that I have said unkind things or passed judgment on others. I won’t try to defend myself here – there’s no excuse for unkindness, and all I can say is that obedience is a process, and that I’m grateful for a God who allows me to repent of my mistakes. Every day when I wake up I choose what kind of person I am going to be. I only hope that it’s apparent in my writing that I am choosing to be a kinder, gentler, more mature version of myself – a truer disciple of Christ than I was the day before. I plan to take all of my own advice given below.

That said, I offer the following observations that have, of late, left me feeling unsettled.

Lately, on a number of blogs, I’ve seen a lot of nastiness and defensiveness and judgment. It’s been done with a certain self-righteous, sanctimonious attitude. “I’m just being honest,” many bloggers will say. “If you don’t like it, tough crap.”

I’m not going to argue with that. There’s nothing I can do about sentiments I disagree with. And I’m certainly not going to argue the honesty point. These bloggers are certainly being honest. But what I take issue with is the fact that nastiness and rudeness is being excused because it’s given under the guise of honesty. We are commanded to be honest in our dealings with our fellow men, certainly. But we are not commanded to be nasty, to hurt feelings, to call names, to find fault, or to assign blame. Quite the opposite, in fact – the aim of being honest is to avoid hurt feelings and nastiness and defensiveness. There’s something called tact, and something else called kindness, and I think that both can be just as important as honesty.

As a teenager, I was wisely counseled to consider the following before repeating a morsel of gossip:
1. Is it kind?
2. Is it true?
3. Is it necessary?

I think it’s worth noting that the first criterion is not honesty. It’s kindness. The truth can hurt, and in some cases can even scar the recipient. I also appreciate that the third item is necessity. I love this quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “The fact that something is true is not always a justification for communicating it.” (source)

I know that I’d do well to remember that, myself! Believe me, the irony of today’s post isn’t lost on me – I’m criticizing others for being critical. I hope it’s clear that I’m not writing this for the sake of being critical. I’m writing as a concerned citizen. I don’t think people realize how damaging their words can be. Even words said sarcastically or in jest can do lasting harm. I can remember very clearly almost every cruel thing that has ever been said to me. My youngest brother made a thoughtless comment about my eating habits when I was nine years old, and I have never forgotten exactly what he said, or how I felt when he said it.

We live in a society where it’s cute and funny to be mean or sarcastic. Rudeness and cruelty masquerade as comedy in the media. Jokes are never made for the sake of humor itself but are rather made at the expense of someone else. Critical words are what constitute comedy on television, and not just in shows for grown-ups. More than once, my jaw has dropped at the subtle nastiness (again, disguised as honesty) in some of the shows my 7-year-old niece watches. Even in programs for very young children, there is a bully or a villain. Cruelty is employed as a literary device to further plot and character development. I worry about what messages my little nieces and nephews are getting from the shows they watch. I take comfort in knowing that they have good parents to teach them correct principles regardless of what is shown on TV.

I’m deviating from my main point a bit here, but as long as I am, allow me to give another quote that I love, this one from N. Eldon Tanner: “The tongue is the most dangerous, destructive, and deadly weapon available to man.” (source) The saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” always puzzled me as a child. Sticks and stones gave only glancing blows. Words hurt me much worse than any physical attack. And words say as much about the speaker as they do about what’s spoken. Indulge me a moment, I’ve found another quote. John S. Tanner said, “We are judged by our words every day. Nothing reveals us so intimately as how we use our divine gift of speech. Are we mean, crude, irreverent, thoughtless, smug, self-righteous, pompous? Our tongues will tell. Our language, too, reveals much about our integrity, honesty, kindness, goodness, humility, and decency. Language reveals character.” (source)

Anyway, back to honesty.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m advocating sophistry. Honesty is vital. It is crucial, and sadly lacking in so much of the world. It is precious. I think that’s what gets me so riled up – people are abusing it, and using it to excuse poor behavior, rudeness, cruelty, and a sense of personal superiority. To that, I offer this humble plea: please don’t. If you want to rant or whine or complain or dig your claws into someone, go ahead. That’s your right; you have agency. But please, please, please don’t do so under the guise of honesty. Don’t pretend that you’re doing what you do or saying what you say because you “want to” or “need to be honest.” Because you do need to be honest! You need to be honest about your motives and your mood and your purpose and your point.

I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but I appreciate it when people are open about those things. I know what I’m getting into. I know to expect a little bile, a little vitriol, a little moodiness. I always feel like I’ve been assaulted when I read something that begins with “I need to be honest about something” and ends with a scathing criticism. I've tried to state outright if I'm simply ranting or complaining, and I will certainly endeavor to do so in the future as well.

So, gentle reader, be honest if you must, but leave honesty as an excuse out of it. Please?


Lara Zierke said...

I have to be honest...I completely agree.
Love all the quotes you used.

etropic said...

I just stumbled across your blog & though I haven't delved too far in to it, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. 2 thumbs up, WAY up..