We always imagine that to be able to tell the truth, even when it’s unpopular, will be both satisfying and liberating. Forget that, it’s nothing short of a complete and utter nightmare. In the space of a week, I have upset every family member and a good portion of
my friends, by speaking my mind. The whole messy business has left me faced with the realisation that most of our relationships only work because we don’t speak the truth.
The truth, it would seem, is overrated. In fact, is there any such thing as the truth or is there just our version of it? And do we have the right to bludgeon other people with our idea of what is true, regardless of their own truth? If you believe the answer to this question is yes, I am willing to wager that you have lots of rocky relationships and you are made of sterner stuff than I am. After my week of truth telling, my nerves are in tatters and it’s probably going to take the rest of the year to repair the damage that my aggressive trail of honesty has caused.
I say aggressive because my truth compulsion came hand in hand with a low level buzzing rage which I was under the misguided illusion would be alleviated by uttering the truth. In actual fact, it wasn’t alleviated one little jot, it simply enraged everybody around me and spread the buzzing rage far and wide like an ugly form of bacteria.
I am not completely without self awareness and realise that a psychologist would no doubt say that a life time of repressed anger is what caused my tumble into a drug induced rage fest. Is that not pretty much normal though? I don’t know many people who have engaged in therapy but the couple I do both came out of it expressing angry feelings left, right and centre, with no thought for how inappropriate or dreary they may be. There is surely nothing more irritating than someone telling you that you have pissed them off, using the pseudo psycho “I’m not blaming you but ...” babble. Give me repressed rage any day of the week.
Is there any place for truth telling then or should it always be avoided? In theory, if someone is about to do something foolish, it’s probably best to speak up but in my experience they invariably don’t listen anyway. I’ve lost count of the times friends have asked my opinion on toxic relationships, self destructive behaviour or employment disasters only to disregard my advice. What’s even worse is that, once alcohol is involved, you can bet your life they will tearfully remind me how I criticised their relationship/behaviour/job which tells me they will be holding it against me until the day I die.
Another tricky area is when people directly ask for your opinion. Is it best to a) lie b) dress up the truth or c) tell the truth come what may. I’m sure over the course of my life I’ve done all three and it’s usually hit and miss how it turns out. It’s the balance between not wanting to hurt people’s feelings whilst trying to avoid misleading them. It’s a minefield. With a lifetime of blundering under my belt, these days I tend to opt out of any personal dilemmas with the standard, “I’d rather not get involved,” line. With all other matters I am probably a cowardly b) dressing up the truth, often to the point where it’s unrecognisable.
What about people who offer unsolicited truth telling then? Having walked in their shoes for a week, I’m bewildered by their motivation and resolve because it’s not an easy path to tread. More than that though, I’m not sure it’s in anybody’s interests. Chances are we have all been on the receiving end of other people’s so called wisdom, when they take it upon themselves to offer us the benefit of their opinions. Just this past couple of weeks I have been offered, completely unsolicited and in no particular order, the following pearls: I’ve gained weight, I look tired (I suspect this is code for old or generally rough), my hair doesn’t suit me and my first novel is crap. These are all valid opinions but do we really have the right to share them.
I was brought up in a family where good manners were the foundation for everything. This hasn’t always made for an easy life as I definitely lack the killer instinct that people seem to need in order to thrive in a competitive society. My default setting is, “After
you ...” whilst others are grabbing at whatever prizes are on offer. More and more though, as we see our society going to hell in a hand basket, I thank my lucky stars that I have the manners and code of social behaviour that my parents instilled into me. Maybe I’m not going to amount to much, if we use the standards set out by the Capitalist system by which we are measured, but at least I can sleep at night.
After my truth serum experience, I am more inclined than ever to cling to the age old idea that – If you can’t say anything constructive then kindly keep your big fat mouth shut!