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I used to know a woman who was extremely nice but could be counted upon to speak the truth no matter what the consequences. If you were her friend, or even if you were not, and you asked her a question, you could be certain that she would tell you her honest opinion and the absolute truth as she saw it no matter how ugly, wart-covered, or painful it may be. Needless to say, truth telling not being the most popular game in town, she had a tendency to alienate more than a few people by honestly speaking her mind. When I pointed this fact out to her, she was unimpressed. “If they don't want to hear what I think, then they shouldn't ask me,” she maintained.
While her attitude might appear to some to be a little black and white, I must say, in her defense, that she never volunteered her opinion whether you asked for it or not, but if you asked, expect to hear exactly what she thought and it was all on you if you didn't like her answer. If you asked a question like, “Do I look fat in this dress?”, and you did, you would have to fully expect that she would tell you that you did. On one occasion a friend of ours asked her what we thought of her boyfriend. I didn't think much of him at all but I kind of hemmed and hawed and finally said that all that mattered was whether or not she was happy. Our truth-telling friend was far less diplomatic.
“Your boyfriend is a total jerk and if you keep dating him he will either cheat on you or dump you or both,” she said.
I can't lie, I was thinking pretty much the same thing but felt that it would probably be hurtful and completely pointless to say as much since the most likely outcomes were that she would get mad at me or completely disregard whatever I said. That was the way these things usually went. Our friend, however, made no allowances for any of that. She firmly believed that if she was truly your friend you valued and respected her opinion and wanted her to be honest and if not, you were not truly her friend. It was as simple as that.
The woman with the probable unfaithful and crummy boyfriend was, as you might imagine, very upset with her answer and promptly walked out of the restaurant we were in. I mentioned to my honest companion that she had probably hurt her feelings.
“Not as much as that creep will down the road,” she answered with a shrug.
She was right, of course. The lousy boyfriend eventually cheated on our other friend, who ultimately returned to the fold and apologized for walking out on us. There were plenty of tears of hurt and pain we witnessed and comfort we provided, despite being fairly certain that the whole business could and probably would reoccur down the road and play out the same way. She had horrible taste in men.
One day, when we were out shopping with another friend and trying on clothes the third member of our little party tried on a lace dress and asked us if it made her look fat. I felt a surge of panic. She was a tad on the fleshy side and I looked at my painfully honest friend in horror. I had visions of her being her totally honest self and our poor friend in the lace frock stomping out of the store forever. I held my breath and waited to see what she would say.
“That dress does not make you look fat,” she said clearly.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I was astounded, particularly since our friend looked a bit like an overstuffed doily in the frock in question. She couldn't have picked a dress that was more wrong and unflattering if she had tried. She, however, being blissfully unaware, smiled happily and went back into the dressing room to change into her street clothes and purchases the horrible thing.
I looked at my other friend with approval.
“It was nice of you to lie about the dress,” I said.
“Don't be an idiot,” she scoffed. “You know I never lie about these things. She asked me if the dress made her look fat. The dress didn't do a thing. It's the extra 50 lbs she's hauling around that make her look fat. The dress is innocent.”
The reality is that often when people ask you for your opinion they don't really want the truth or even your opinion, for that matter. What they really want is validation. They want an echo of the opinion they already have. My honest friend truly believed that if you were her friend and respected her opinion and asked her for it, you should be willing to hear it whether it was identical to yours or not. I tend to think that human relations are a little more complex than that, but I see plenty of merit in her theory. She believed that even if the reaction of her friends was to get angry with her, it was her duty as their friend to tell them the truth, and if the truth made someone think twice about a lousy boyfriend or caused make a good health choice and lose some weight, then it would be worth it.
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