Monday, January 31, 2011

Superwoman VS the Truth

Honesty is the best policy...Right?

We are commanded not to lie. One of the questions in the temple recommend interview asks if we are honest in our dealings. Latter-Day Saints are taught to embrace honesty. The Thirteenth Article of Faith says "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men..." Integrity is one of the values recited and encouraged in the Young Women's Theme each week. Boy Scouts promise to be trustworthy. Honesty is very important.

Is it always? My whole family gets a big kick out of Geico commercials like this one about Abe Lincoln. It points out the big flaw in the whole honesty question. Is honesty always the best policy?

On more than one occasion, I was rude or cruel in the name of honesty and someone got hurt. In most cases, I was not intending to be hurtful, I was just giving my opinion or trying to give someone information about a situation and it blew up in my face.

Once in a while, someone came to me later and said "Thanks for telling me that. It took time but I see now that you were right." Those moments actually make things more confusing for me. When should I speak up and when should I keep my mouth shut?

Many advise givers suggest waiting until a person asks your opinion. I don't completely agree with that. If there is an obvious problem, ignoring it may make it worse or at least imply that you approve when you don't. (Those same advisers often suggest clearing the air, too.)

I recently found myself in one of these situations. I made a request that someone curb their language and be more respectful in a public setting. That started a chain reaction that lead to hurt feelings and a lot of anger. I feel bad about how things turned out. I really do. But I stand by what I said. I don't think I was out of line at all. I tried to make it clear that what I said was an observation from my perspective. If it was inaccurate, maybe she should think about the image she projects. It didn't make a difference in her reaction.

I guess no one likes to be told their faults. I try not to nit-pick or criticize unless I feel it is absolutely necessary. More than once I have been kept in the dark when a little honesty would have saved me and others from undue hardship.

A great example happened the year my husband was deployed. My daughter turned 3 that year. We were friends with a family who had a son her age. The 2 got along well but could get each other worked up from time to time. I had spent a good part of the year thinking my kids were pretty well-behaved. Then my visiting teaching companion was called as the Primary President. One day were out visiting teaching and she was sharing her issues with the Primary. It was nothing serious; finding teachers, keeping the kids attention, the usual.

Then she said "We really need a new nursery leader. Someone who can handle Erika and W." I was a little taken aback. "What do you mean by that?" I asked, feeling a little defensive. She said "Oh, you know, how they get all wound up, screaming, throwing toys at each other and hitting the other kids. The person who is in there now can't handle them. We need someone who can be firm." I was speechless! MY child!?!?! Screaming? Throwing toys at other children? On purpose?!?!?! I had NO IDEA!!!

I told my friend I didn't know that was happening. She said "Well, your husband is deployed. I'm sure they didn't want to add more to your plate." I can see that. I can relate to that feeling that you are doing someone a favor by keeping quiet and trying to handle the problem yourself. But at what cost? How long had the other children been traumatized by my child? How much more effective would the teacher have been if I was backing her up at home?

During my experience this week, I kept thinking about a passage in 1 Nephi 16.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us. (emphasis added)
Think of contrast between the two examples. When I made a suggestion, the immediate reaction was anger. And it only got worse. When I was told about my daughter, I was upset but not angry. I was frustrated that she was misbehaving and that I didn't know about it. But I was eager to correct the problem. The truth did not make me angry. It motivated me to action.

That is not always the case. I hate being told what my problems are. I hate feeling guilty. I usually know when I need to make a change. It can be embarrassing to learn that others noticed, too.

My conclusion is that we can't just tell people they are flawed and walk away. Honesty has consequences. If we are willing to open the door, we have to be willing to walk through and stay until the job is done. And if it is slammed in our faces we have to be willing to keep knocking until they open up.

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