I recently read a post by Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat Pray Love about the lessons she struggled to learn regarding being nice over telling people a needed truth. She explains in withholding truth you are demeaning or infantilizing people and keeping them from important growth.
As a therapist I often have to expose difficult realities and although I try to be gentle in my approach the insights can be hard to swallow for the recipient. I have the benefit of a therapeutic relationship, cultivated trust, and the fact that people are often seeking truth by entering therapy. But even in these relationships — and of course in my personal life — I've been guilty of choosing kindness over truth in my support of someone. It is sometimes out of politeness, fear of hurting someone, fear of being rejected, and it is even a bit cultural — we Canadians are known for our niceness. Think of the times you have nodded emphatically with your friend over her misplaced anger towards her partner, workplace, neighbour...., and therefore, failing to help her take responsibility for her own glaring part in the situation.
With parenting, we want our kids to learn to tell the truth but we really want them to be nice, don't we? As Gilbert once learned from her ethics professor, "Most of us grew up in families where our parents demanded the truth, but they couldn't deal with it... and so we all learn how to lie." As it turns out, we can't handle the truth. So when our kids share that they find their judo teacher mean, they don't want to play with the other kids, or that we yell too much.... it all becomes silenced. The fact is that the judo teacher isn't addressing students respectfully and it needs to be said, that those kids are too rough and are acting mean spirited, or that we are yelling too much and should look at that. Only practicing kindness when the truth is needed is like sticking your head in the sand. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out says that “when kindness comes at the expense of truth, it is not a kindness worth having...”.
The truth is hard to share but we need to teach our kids about this complex subject and help them be kind while honouring truth.
Many of us are still trying to learn these lessons in our 40s. My Mom has felt some liberation in her 60s about having better boundaries with more self-protective truths and she wishes she learned to say a healthy no earlier in her life.
The applications are endless and important to ponder. Kindness is of course important, as Gilbert says both truth and kindness are “top-notch, A-grade, golden ticket qualities.” Make kindness and truth part of your mantra but when they struggle to co-exist, think beyond the moment and what will be the most beneficial, you will find you often land on the fact that the kindness resides in the truth.