Sep 29, 2012

Straight Talk about Telling It Like It Is

or Telling It Like It Is About Straight Talk

Normally I like to choose my words carefully with a great deal of consideration as to how they'll be received and their potential effectiveness.  But today I'm going to dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase.

Telling it like it is is often highly overrated.

Problem: When people are telling it like it is most of they are really only telling it like they think.  We fancy ourselves as great truth-tellers but in fact we've merely exalted our own opinion to the level indisputable fact. This is why this kind of attitude crops up more often in arenas like religion and politics, areas where indisputable facts are much rarer than we'd like to think but where it's easy for deeply held beliefs to feel absolutely true.

Problem: It doesn't usually work.  Think about it.  When was the last time you were convinced to change your viewpoint or way of life because someone gave you some so-called straight talk.  We like to tell ourselves "someone needs to set that guy straight."  But when have you ever been "set straight" by someone else?  How often does someone say "Wow, thinks for completely laying bare each and every way that I'm in the wrong"?

Problem: Usually when we're telling it like it is, we're not trying to change anyone else's mind.  Instead we're doing it for the enjoyably smug feeling of being right.  If we know that someone is unlikely to change from a browbeating or verbal smack down--you know the kind that makes onlookers go "Oooooh" like school kids responding to an especially snappy put-down--it's clear that there are other reasons for straight talk.  Primarily letting everyone else see how clever we are.

I'm not saying there's no place for straight talk; that only diplomatic talk has legitimate value, but here's a couple of things to keep in mind next time you're tempted to indulge in some feel-good smacking-down, some righteous reprimanding.

It's usually time to give it to 'em straight if you are reluctant to do so.  This is a pretty good indication that what you have to say isn't to gratify your own ego, but because someone else really needs to hear the truth. If you can't wait to "set that guy straight",you probably should keep your mouth shut.

If you've earned the right to speak, you have a duty to do so.   If not you probably won't be heard.  When you have a close relationship with someone, when that person knows you care for them unconditionally then not only are they ready to hear the truth from you--they are counting on it.  Because while we may shut out the self-righteous bloviating or smug false concern of those who don't know and care for us, we need to hear the truth from those we know are in our corner.  But you get to be that person not by being right but by being a friend.  Sadly sometimes it the people who are the in the best position to tell it like it is that fail to do so.  Elvis, Michael Jackson and other sad cautionary celebrity stories of those who surrounded by yes men had plenty of critics, but those critics spoke their truths from a distance and were never heard.  It was the responsibility of those who had earned the right to be heard to speak.

If your goal  is not to change the mind of the person you are talking to, but to warn others than it's time to speak hard truths.  Your speaking up may put your own reputation, livelihood  and even personal safety at risk.  Most times when we're in a hurry to tell someone off, there's no cost to ourselves.  But when someone poses a real danger to others, it often means they pose a danger to you as well.  Jesus presents a good example of this; he had strong words for the religious leaders of his days--brood of vipers, white washed tombs, hypocrites--and he didn't sugar coat the truth.  Not because he expected to correct these men but because they were leading people astray and had to be called out for the sake of those who would be deceived by them.  If like me, you're having a hard time thinking of similar situations in your own life, that should come as no surprise.  Opportunities for this kind of truth-telling are rare in deed.

So there it is, my unvarnished take on shoot from the hip straight talkers.  I offer no apologies to those I might offend.

After all, I'm just. . .you know. . .telling it like it is.


1 comment:

The Whale said...

"Straight Talk about Telling It Like It Is"

Wow, great post! I'm printing it for a friend I think needs to read this. I know I did. Thank you so much.

Best regards, The Whale