I’m just sayin’ … honesty isn’t always kind

“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.” (Robert Brault)

Attribution: Donna Cameron“I’m just saying this for your own good.”

“Don’t be so thin-skinned. I’m just telling it like it is.”

“Hey, I call it like I see it.”

“Jeesh, you’re so touchy!”

These phrases are often used to justify saying hurtful things. Sometimes the speaker may really believe that the listener needs to hear his unvarnished opinion about the poor sap’s looks, abilities, opinions, or prospects.

Speaking on behalf of poor saps everywhere, we don’t. We don’t need someone to tell us all the things that are wrong with us or all the things we don’t do as well as we should. That’s what that persistent little voice in our own head does—and it doesn’t need any help.

There are things that need to be said and things that don’t need to be said. If we pause to think before we speak, we generally know the difference.

“You’d be so much prettier if you’d just lose fifteen pounds,” doesn’t need to be said—ever.

“You might want to get that spinach off your front tooth before you make your presentation,” needs to be said. Thank you!

“The other kids in your class certainly have more artistic ability than you do,” doesn’t need to be said, even if it’s abundantly clear to everyone but your eight-year-old.

I don’t advocate lying. I was raised in a home where honesty was valued and I consider honesty to be one of the most important characteristics of good people. That being said, I believe there are times when telling the truth may not be the best course of action. And being able to discern the appropriate time for truth-telling and the appropriate time for silence or even a downright lie is another important characteristic of good people…certainly of kind ones.

Some lies are obvious, some a bit more subtle.

To the question, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” any spouse who answers that with anything but, “You look gorgeous!” or a similarly reassuring exclamatory statement really hasn’t thought through the business of being married.

“It’s perfect! Thank you so much!” in response to an ugly, impractical, or totally preposterous gift is always a wise response, even if it’s a whopper of a lie. Would you really rather hurt the giver’s feelings and then live with the regret of having done so? Receiving graciously—even when the gift is unwanted—is one of the kindest behaviors we can learn.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking.” There are times—and we usually know when they are—when telling an acquaintance about our persistent rash, impending colonoscopy, or chronic foot fungus is entirely unnecessary. The depth of the relationship is a good gauge of how much detail to provide when someone asks the innocuous and automatic question, “How are you?”

If you’re contemplating telling a lie, think about your motive behind it:

Are you lying to make yourself appear to be something that you are not—smarter, stronger, more successful or more interesting? Think again, and exercise your courage muscles. You’re fine exactly as you are—why pretend to be something that you’re not? Would you rather be authentic or an imposter? Would you rather people liked and respected you for who you really are, or because they think you’re something that you’re not? Besides, when you deceive others you must remember the story you fabricated—otherwise you are likely to get caught in your lie later—and you’ll either feel foolish or have to come up with more lies. It’s not worth it.

Are you lying to make a sale, deflect blame, get recognized, or advance your career? No matter how innocuous the lie may seem, your trustworthiness and integrity are at stake here—even if you’re the only one who knows that. Are they worth tarnishing for anything?  I recently came upon a quote by Ryan Freitas that sums it up pretty well: “Your reputation is more important than your paycheck, and your integrity is worth more than your career.”

Are you lying to spare someone’s feelings? Under these circumstances, lying may be both acceptable and desirable. Add another question: is anyone harmed … if I tell my work colleague that her new hair style is great when, in fact, my first thought was that she looks like a radish on a stick?

Other questions to consider:

  • If I were in his/her position, would I want the truth or a gentle lie? or
  • Which response best serves kindness: the truth, a considerate lie, or silence?

My sister and I still commiserate (it’s cheaper than therapy) over our mother’s “truth-telling” to us as children: to Kim that her smile showed too much of her teeth and gums—causing my sister for decades to cover her mouth when she smiled or laughed, rather than display her genuine delight; and to me that I could always have a nose-job if my nose got any bigger. Until my mother mentioned it, I had been totally unaware that my proboscis was anything less than perfect. Thanks, Mom! Fortunately, my husband thinks my patrician nose is beautiful.

It seems to me that another consideration of whether to tell the truth or to dissemble is whether you can make a contribution to the outcome.

If your colleague has already gotten the haircut, or your spouse has already bought and worn the loud Hawaiian shirt, then little is served by telling them what you really think. But if they ask you in advance how you think they would look with a radical ‘do, or wearing a bright yellow shirt with orange and purple parrots, a diplomatic truth might help them make a different decision.

Similarly, we don’t need to be the people who point out the typo, criticize the amount of cumin in the soup, or correct a stranger’s mispronunciation. If someone asks for my input, I’ll gladly give it—unless it appears that they really just want support and kudos—then I’ll give those. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that I’ve also gotten quieter. I don’t need to point out somebody else’s foibles and failures. I’ve got plenty of my own.

But my nose, fortunately, is quite perfect.

“If you have to choose between being kind and being right, choose being kind and you will always be right.” (Anonymous)

29 thoughts on “I’m just sayin’ … honesty isn’t always kind

  1. Donna, this is wonderful!! You write so clearly, your examples are so real, and you frame the questions such that we can use them at any time, in any situation. My favorites are, “Which response best serves kindness: the truth, a considerate lie, or silence?” and, “…another consideration of whether to tell the truth or to dissemble is whether you can make a contribution to the outcome.” These are actionable assessment tools, and I will use them and share them from now on! 😀 THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Catherine! Glad you found the questions helpful … now if we can just remember to ask them when circumstances arise! Thank you also, for reblogging and for your very kind words. I really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It seems like most of these circumstances involve someone offering their opinion unsolicited. That’s not “truth-telling,” it’s their opinion. Like you said, I’ve learned to mostly keep my mouth shut–especially about something I feel particularly emotional about.

    In the situation about receiving an unwanted gift, I don’t think I could pull off “It’s perfect.” What I try to do instead (I seem to get A LOT of unwanted gifts), is thank the person for their thoughtfulness or for thinking about me. Gratitude is always a good place to start for me.

    As I’m a person with bipolar disorder, the “How are you?” question can be a land mine. I say, “Fine” way too much. I’m good at being “Fine” when I’m far from it. A tiny bit of honesty is usually more helpful than none at all. “I’m cycling right now” or “I’m working it” keeps me from denying my illness, but spares folks the gory details.

    Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Sandy Sue. You’re right that one person’s “truth” is often really just opinion; it seems also that the more strongly they hold it as “truth,” the more likely it is opinion. And certainly, “It’s perfect” may sometimes be a stretch; I like your acknowledgment of the giver’s thoughtfulness. That’s really our intent, isn’t it? Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: In Praise of the Words of Others | Healing Through Connection

  4. Reblogged this on blabberwockying! and commented:
    This is such a beautiful post. Truth is which helps people heal, awaken and enlighten. It’s not straight-in-the-face facts always. My heartfelt thanks to Donna and Catherine for bringing this beautiful discussion into awareness because such values need to be reminded again and again. I have been guilty of being truthful and harsh in my life where I should have been more kind, so I share this post with a gentle reminder to all my friends out there who feel that being honest is always the best. Kindness is better policy; better than the best!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is such a beautiful post Donna 🙂

    Though I follow your blog, Catherine brought this post to my attention and I thank both of you for that. I have shared this post on my blog and elsewhere. I have been guilty of being too blunt with facts–though intention was not to hurt people have been hurt. This is a gentle reminder to people like me to be more kind. Thank you so much 🙂

    Love and light ❤

    Anand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Anand for reblogging and for your candid, insightful comments. Ideally, kindness and honesty shouldn’t have to be an either/or—I always seek both/and—but if we can’t have both, I figure you can’t go wrong choosing kindness (though it may not always be easy!). Thank you for your very kind words. All the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a wonderful post.There is so much to learnt from this.
    Being kind is always appreciated but there is also the thought of consideration.If only more people would abide by this. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love this post! It is very well written and speaks my feelings quite well. “Silence is sometimes the best answer.” – Dalai Lama

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is genuinely beautiful. Tact and grace sometimes seem old-fashioned to some, but I completely agree with your post. Very nice ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Donna, this is outstanding! I so very much identify with “I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that I’ve also gotten quieter.” A true gift of the adage ‘with age comes wisdome!’ This post certainly speaks of Graceful living at it’s finest…
    Thank you for touching on a wonderful topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dawn Marie, for your kind comments. I do hope, as you suggest, there is some wisdom involved in becoming quieter with age. I think I’ve also become much more comfortable in the companionable silence that often evolves with one’s closest friends and loved ones. Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment!


  10. Reblogged this on hugsnblessings and commented:
    I have decided as part of my NaBloPoMo challenge to Reblog posts I have enjoyed reading myself. Perhaps you too will find something that touches your own heart in a special way as you read along!

    I have always appreciated kindness & have made a conscious effort to extend kindness to others, (as God would have me do.) Donna at ayearoflivingkindly.com does a stunning job encouraging those with this same goal to persevere in their efforts to be kind in a sometimes difficult world that we live in! This most recent article touches on the importance of honesty and it’s proper use as we strive to be a conduit of kindness to one another.

    The article struck a cord for me due in part to an emotional scar that has been difficult to heal as the result of someone’s “honesty.” Not many years ago someone wrote a defamation letter against our family regarding her “honest” opinion of my loved ones. This letter damaged not only relationships that were strained to begin with but had such a domino effect that a marriage eventually was destroyed.

    I remember the letter trying to be “rationalized.” When we were told the writer was ‘entitled to their opinion’ and ‘to share it with how they wished,’ all I kept hearing in my own thoughts was Thumper from the Disney movie…. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” How could a cartoon rabbit in a forest (with an adorable foot-twitch,) have the wisdom to be kind and yet it be so lacking in the actions of this person? Admittedly, they were/are entitled to a personal opinion. But…being dishonest with how we may truthfully feel is most times a far kinder gesture to make. God is pleased with our ability to discern when to quietly be dishonest…all as a measure of love.

    I’ll be back on Monday with a “giggle” of my own to share, but for now enjoy the beautiful insight from Donna’s site & I pray there will be a special nugget unearthed as a wonderful discovery for you as well!!


  11. Ah yes, this can be a tricky situation. I know I’ve been guilty more than a few times of saying something too brutally honest to family members with the thinking that my comments would help them change, and ultimately “protect” them from the harsh judgments of others out in the real world. Sadly, I was probably more harsh than any stranger would’ve been. I like your assessment tools, as Cathy calls them. And because I tend toward the self-reflective, I’m also trying to unravel what made feel so critical in the first place.


    • I suspect we’ve all been there, Nancy, and likely because that’s what we experienced in our own families. We talk a lot about what we learn as adults–what we unlearn is just as important! Thanks so much for your candid and thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You know there times when hit in the face with an unwelcome opinion when you can say, “Oh piss off”. Or substitute any other verb that suits you.


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