Brian’s Reflection: Friday, July 22, 2011
Honesty has come to mean the privilege of insulting
you to your face without expecting redress.
No. It is not the birthday, death day, or any other significant day in the life of Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin), the inimitable doyen of modern day good manners and etiquette. But it is the birthday, in 1908, of Amy Vanderbilt, the self-appointed earlier such doyenne to another age. I couldn’t find anything really interesting to say about Amy, but it was (well, for me anyway!) a natural segue to Miss Manners!
You know the classic “old joke” yes, about ingenious segues? A priest preached always about confession. An annoyed group of parishioners determined to sidetrack him, so they asked him to preach on a Biblical text, which would be placed in the pulpit just before the sermon time. He agreed. The text the priest found was , “Now Joseph was a carpenter.” He announced the text and said, “… and Joseph made church confessional boxes, which leads me to my theme for the day.”
In general, I agree that “Honesty is the best policy”. But there are exceptions to every rule, yes? The New Testament says, “Speak the truth in love”. This adds an important if not critical dimension ….. presuming one wishes to be both honest and kind. Then there is the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all”. One can speak the truth “nicely, i.e., with respect and caring. And there is the wonderful Buddhist/yoga saying concerning “mindful speech” oft quoted by Sai Baba: “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true.” This assumes one wishes to be mindful of the feelings of others.
And if you should get caught in a tense moment when you wish not to lie but also wish to be kind, remember the line of a husband whose wife, wearing a hideously ugly dress, asked him how she looked as they prepared to go out for the evening; he said, “You’ve never looked better!” This can be adapted to great advantage. (Just kidding, just kidding!)
But the bottom line is: Insult is not a privilege of Honesty. As well, it is not practical – for most of us do not hear Honesty if it devoid of thoughtfulness, respect, or love.
Hope you have a delicious weekend!