Sledgehammers of Truth: How Bluntness and Honesty Are Not One and the Same

This segment comes to you from a profoundly meditative space.  For those of you not familiar with me, read that as: “I’m having a magical tea party with my thoughts and feelings, trying to decide who gets to be the pretty, pretty Princess and who plays Mother with the teapot.”  You’re going to want to sit tight for this one.  If you do drugs, now would be an excellent time to indulge, because it’s only going to slide further into The Weird from here.

You’ve been warned.  It’s Teatime.

 

Redefining a Reputation

Over the years, I acquired something of a reputation for bluntness, for brutal honesty.  I want to tell you here and now, I’m no more or less honest than the next person.  About two years ago at this point, I experienced something that crushed me.  I’m not going to quibble–I was damn near dead in the head.  And it was such a temptation to use my reputed gift for vitriol to return the favor to those who had wounded me.

There are rules about these things.  I couldn’t accept responsibilty for what might come about if I chose to truly let go of any sense of social restraint and do harm to others.  Therefor, i could not take that path.  So, there I was, mad enough to kill–quite literally–but saddled with a semi-Buddhist desire to make the world better, not worse.  How do you cope with a spirit poisoned from all sides?  How do you get over that?  The truth?  You don’t, not all at once, anyway.  But there’s a lot of living that gets done, even when you hide, shut down, cease to create.

Eventually, things happen to you, even when you’re screening your phone calls and nursing your bitterness.  Hell is a thing we carry around within ourselves.  Sure, we build it, but, you may be certain, we also have help.  Here’s the raw deal–you have decide to walk out of there.  I did.  But I wasn’t the same as the girl who went in.  I had somehow determined that my words hurt people, so I must never be as I once was.  I muted myself, censored my thoughts, and strapped on a verbal filter through which everything came out sounding like fucking Pollyanna.

And nothing I said was honest, even when it was true…

 

Let’s Split Hairs.  With a Dump Truck

The reason I went into all of that is because it’s had a profound impact on the way I view how I speak to others.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s difficult for me to avoid being blunt if I want to be honest.  I’m just one of those unfortunate individuals.  But, as a writer, I’ve put in some serious reflection on how honesty is delivered.  Because there are ways.  And then there are ways.  And then there’s how things actually happen, in real time.  Sometimes, there are cliffs and magic, but there are also chances that you alienate people–individuals you care about, that may be useful to you.

This has happened to all of us at one point in time or another.  It’s usually a product of differing interpretations of what’s said or a lack of clarity on the part of the speaker.  Let’s keep in mind that blunt objects are not ideal for precision operations.  They’re good for demolition, for breaking down walls, for destroying things.  You don’t take a sledgehammer into the operating theater with you, if you actually intend to preserve the patient’s life, anyway.  We should adopt this view with language.  Human beings are a verbal species, and all of us, to some extent have this gift for language.  The key is how we employ the tools in our linguistic tool box.

I came down to the foundation of my Sprachehaus during this vacation in my own personal hell, and I kept digging.  I realized that, through the act of writing, I had more tools at my avail than I realized.  I just wasn’t making use of them in the act of speech.  They came across just fine on the page, but my interaction with other human beings still had the distinct flavor of a demolition site.  I think all human beings may face some version of this revelation when they begin to write.  To my fellow freelancers, especially those just starting out, and myself as well, I have this to say,

How you phrase your points will determine whether you sell your work or starve.  This isn’t a conversation at the coffee shop, it’s your meal ticket.  Learn to make language work for you.  Polish your delivery.  Eventually, you’ll also make the same connection I did, modified to fit your needs and circumstances.  Because all human interaction, whether we want to admit it or not, is a transaction.  What are you bringing to the table?

 

Questions and Answers

I recently had an interaction with a colleague where I pressed him for an answer, he replied, and I experienced a negative emotional reaction to his language.  I feel the need to clarify a few things–both personally and in a generalized sense.  What offended me was not his meaning, nor his honesty.  He was blunt, and he offered me a legitimate glimpse into how he thinks.  That said, his phrasing sucked.  And his clarification didn’t really clarify anything for me, except maybe the fact that he has taken little time to teach himself about how to interact on a deeper level with peers who are women and who aren’t interested in him.  And vice versa.

Yeah, there’s some bluntness there, and I’ll likely pay for that, but it serves a purpose.  Here’s why.  I’ve pushed for that deeper association, for an intellectual and emotional intimacy I may not entirely have earned from him, and I have to accept what comes with that.  Most of our interaction takes place in print, via e-mail.  There are complications that come with this, but also the benefit that I don’t get a heavy dose of that strange aura he projects.  It’s something that fascinates me about him–I could stand there and have an exchange with him in order to obtain information–everything’s rosy, there are smiles all around, and I walk away feeling good.  About five minutes later, I realize that he actually never answered my questions, and the entire interaction was essentially a functional welter of total bullshit.

Goodness, that was a delightful response.  It was, however, not an answer.

Do I suggest that he uses this to manipulate people?  Absolutely, though not with malice aforethought.  Human animals are not difference engines, but rather benefit engines, asking “What will produce the desired result, and accrue to me the highest level of personal good?” When we interact through a textual medium, this charisma is negated.  He’s on his own.  His only tool for avoidance of any pressure is to avoid answering at all, because a vague message will only garner another novel in his in-box, asking for clarification.

Do I suggest that I am without fault?  Absolutely not.  My chief sin is that I tend to use fifty words where five will do–that’s largely a product of laziness on my part.  I rarely police my verbosity if I’m not being paid for product.  For those less infatuated with language in all its forms, this is exhausting, I’ve no doubt.  But it’s also unlikely to change, largely because it’s born of two sources–that delight in language and also the constant need, over the years, to translate everything I say in multiple ways so my audience understands what the hell I was saying in the first place.

 

Fallout and Grist

Was there a point to all of this?  Yes.  This was not an attack on my colleague.  I’m not angry.  But what I am is a writer.  Experiences like this provide a valuable touch point for self-assessment and for reflection on larger issues that extend beyond my personal sphere.  He had to know that our interaction would not end where it did, in fact.  He should also be aware that, because I value his honesty, I don’t want him to think that my emotional reaction to his inept phrasing is his problem, or that I think it should be.  I ask questions to which I want answers.

If I don’t receive them, I will continue to ask.  I recognize how this corners him, but I’m not going to ever promise not to use life experiences to explore broader themes or to develop my own understanding of the world.  If I did that, I would be lying.  What I can promise is to try not to punish others for attempting to be honest.  I can only insist that they attempt to actually be clear when clarifying.  More than that, I accept that we are all human, that we all fuck up, and that, whether we mean to or not, our words will at one time or another be a cause of pain for someone we care about.

 

I think that’s a good stopping point for tonight.  Here’s a clip from a movie that actually makes some very good points about everything we’ve been talking about.   Now, pass the cake plate, Jerk, and don’t hog the scones.

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6 thoughts on “Sledgehammers of Truth: How Bluntness and Honesty Are Not One and the Same

  1. It’s been a few days and I was wondering if you had had a further conversation with the colleague in which you told him his answers failed you on one or more levels? I assume you have, since you’re advocating the direct approach. How’d it work out?

  2. Actually, no–there’s been no further communication with him. I do tend to be direct, but I don’t chase people when they intentionally seek space from me. That’s largely because I don’t favor being pressed myself, should I happen to avoid answering through distancing myself.

    If you get up and walk away, literally or metaphorically, I won’t follow. People who are worthwhile return to the table/conversation, but they may need a little breathing room to sort things out. If a person flees from closer association, do I really want to know them deeply? I can only offer it, not force it, anyway. He has to choose to accept it, and everything that goes along with it.

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