“I would want to hear the truth”, the woman said confidently to her friend. Soon after, they stopped talking because she was offended by the truth when she heard it.
This isn’t unusual. A lot of my friends and colleagues say they want “to know the truth” about themselves. (As if!)
Many years ago, a friend noted that no one wants to know the truth, unless it’s a compliment about themselves. Everyone present argued with him, including me. Almost thirty years later, I have to admit that he was soooo right. Even though I’ve struggled with the concept of honesty, truthfulness, and direct response for a long time, every once in a while I still believe it when someone says, “Be honest with me”.
Just this afternoon, the understanding that no one, yes, no one wants to hear the truth unless it’s a positive statement about them, became crystal clear. So clear, actually, that I would like to proselytize against the truth – especially when someone asks you for it.
My point: If someone bothers to ask you to tell them “the truth” as it relates to them, it simply means that they are seeking approval. That’s all.
“Please tell me what she said about the performance”, asked the friend who wanted to hear that she did very well. “It was great”, I said, “but the singing was a bit off pitch. Not noticeable, but just a bit so”. You could hear her face fall.
“I am tired of therapists agreeing with me all the time”, the new client said, smiling bravely, “so I really want you to tell me what you see and what I’d be able to change”. Silly me, I answered truthfully. Obviously, he didn’t come back.
That was many years ago, and I’ve become so much wiser since then. Now, when a client asks me that question, I know they want to tell them they are good and perfect; and mostly that they were right when they fought with their mother, brother or boyfriend.
Even with my closest friends, I’ve learned to shy away from a direct response.
A friend tried to explain why she should stay with an emotionally abusive husband. She asked my opinion about staying with him. It’s implied she wants to know the truth. I know better. I know that she feels embarrassed about not being able to leave. I know that she does not like herself, and maybe even struggles with self-contempt. Do you really believe that she wants me to say “you fool, leave the sob a.s.a.p.”? No, she wants me to say that it’ll be OK.
Does this mean I’m a liar or a hypocrite?
The answer is nuanced. I think I’m giving them the perfect and most direct answer to the real question. You see, indirectly – they are asking me whether I will support them, and of course I will. My friend wants to know that I will be there for her; that I accept her even though she is compromising and even though she had always claimed she’d never tolerate such treatment.
When someone asks you for the truth about themselves, it stands to reason that the request comes from a sincere place – and it does. What could be more sincere than anxiety, hesitation, doubt and approval seeking?
It’s just that the question was asked inaccurately.