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What has Honesty got to do with Kindness?

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Lesley McCall

Spring 2017

What has Honesty Got to do with kindness?

So how honest are you?

Most people tell ‘little white lies’ to save someone’s feelings, but what about more serious issues? Would you, for example, tell a friend her husband had made a pass at you? If not, why not? Would it be out of kindness or from the fear that you might lose a friend? If you were honest, what exactly would be your motive for that? Honesty can be a moral and emotional minefield, with some people using honesty as an excuse to be spiteful, and others risking a lot to tell someone what they need to know. When is it kind to be honest and when is it kinder to tell a little white lie?

The truth is subjective

Never forget that what is true for you may not be true for somebody else. So being honest is your version of the truth. It all depends on what Neuro-Linguistic Programming calls your Model of the World (MOTW). We all see the world in a different way so it follows that we all have our own version of the truth.

A friend of mine is brave enough to give his opinion on the way his daughters dress. He is always, without fail, scrupulously honest – a recipe for disaster you might think or, at the very least, a massive girly tantrum! However, the reason this works is that he is a man who is very kind– he loves his family and would never be deliberately malicious – and they trust him, which makes all the difference. He is close enough to his daughters for them to value his honest opinion and they understand that this is influenced by his MOTW, which may not always match theirs. So sometimes they take his advice and sometimes they don’t…. but they always value it. They also understand that if they don’t want honesty then they shouldn’t ask him.

Hidden agendas (or obvious ones)

The press always trumpet ‘The Honest Truth‘ as if they had a duty to tell us all what they think we should know, but do we always believe them? No – because we know that their agenda is not just about informing the public. They are more often concerned with money than with kindness.

Look at Shakespeare, writing about Richard III, in the reign of Elizabeth I. His truth, his honesty, painted Richard as a hunchback, a deformed child murderer, which later sources have revealed is probably untrue. His version of honesty was terribly slanted and unkind, though many people believed him.

So, if our version of the truth is influenced by our own prejudices, then how kind is it to inflict it on other people, however well-meaning we think we are being? If we correct other people, maybe we should stop and consider why it is so important for us to be right. Isn’t it kinder to allow other people to believe what they want to believe rather than to be honest with them?

To tell or not to tell?

When is it kinder to leave someone in ignorance? Is it ever kinder to leave someone in ignorance? Do we have to be honest at all cost?

I was told two different stories recently with very different endings:

A loyal, sweet friend of mine faced a moral dilemma several years ago. She discovered that a close friend’s husband was having an affair and, after a lot of soul searching, she told her. In her humiliation and anger, her friend turned on her and their friendship was shattered. So, my friend’s kindness and courage was rewarded with loss and sacrifice, even though her motives were kind and pure.

Another friend’s husband was having an affair. One of her friends plucked up the courage to tell her, even though she had no idea what the reaction would be. My friend considered it an act of courage and kindness and was grateful for her loyalty. Strangely, some of her other friends were horrified that she had told and felt it was wrong. So, who was right?

Was it kind? Depends on your point of view.

Different levels of honesty

How honest we are and whether it is kind or spiteful to be honest may depend on what level of honesty is needed. There is obviously a range from ‘does my bum look fat in this dress?‘ to ‘are you my real father?‘. Whether you are honest or not may depend on many things, including the repercussions of an honest answer weighed against the need to avoid hurting someone.

Even with small issues people will disagree on whether it is kinder to be honest or not. What about when you play games with small children? Do you let them win? And, if you do, isn’t that lying to them? So, would honesty be unkind? Would never letting them win when they are small teach them to really appreciate it when they finally won? Or is it kinder to lie? Once again, it depends on your model of the world. One parent’s kindness is another parent’s lies. Do you demotivate them by being honest? Or does it help them to know what real achievement is?

What about lying about Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy? Is it kinder to deceive the children? Surely, it is a harmless lie? Millions of parents would agree, as would most children.

Asked or offered?

Does it make a difference if you are asked for honesty instead of offering it because you feel the person ‘should’ know what you want to tell them? I believe it does. It all boils down to motive – why are you being honest? Are you being kind or does your honesty stem from more sinister emotions, such as jealousy, bitterness, or revenge? Most importantly – are you being honest with yourself about why you are being honest?

Honesty can be very painful and we should use it with care and not as a weapon. Think carefully about your own motivation if you are offering honesty without being asked for it.

So, to conclude, I would like to share an old story: Two men met in the street, they were acquaintances.

The first man said to the second man, ‘There is something I have been wanting to tell you.‘

The second man replied, ‘Is it true?’

‘I’m not sure,‘ replied the first man.

‘But is it kind?‘ asked the second man.

‘No, not really,‘ said the first man.

‘Will it be useful for me to know?‘ asked the second man. ‘No, not really,‘ replied the first man, doubtfully.

‘So, let me get this clear,‘ said the second man. ‘You want to tell me something that is unkind, possibly untrue and of no use to me?’

‘Well, yes,‘ the first man answered.

Without a backwards glance, the second man walked away.

So, always try to make your honesty useful, true and, of course, kind.