Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Sincerity and Straightforwardness


image credit: laurenkgray.com
 There are a lot of people around us that don't say what they mean or don't mean what they say. Even though it's often hard to distinguish one from another, there is a huge difference between the two.

How so?
Imagine that Jack's girtlfriend, Lisa, bought a new dress that doesn't look good on her. It makes her look heavier than she truly is and it doesn't compliment her body. Jack realizes that she shouldn't have bought it, but Lisa is apparently delighted with her purchase and keeps asking her boyfriend whether or not he likes it. She is worried because Jack's face doesn't show as much delight as hers, and she guesses that he is not crazy about her dress, even though she would really love to hear a compliment, which Jack perfectly understands.

Now, the problem is: Jack wants to let Lisa know that the dress was an unfortunate purchase, and she shouldn't wear it. He doesn't want to make her unhappy, but he can't lie to her either saying that she looks gorgeous in it. In other words, he wants to be sincere, but should he be straightforward as well?
image credit: knowledge-gallery.com

If Jack is straightforward, he will most likely tell Lisa, "This dress makes your waist seem enormous. Moreover, the color doesn't flatter you at all, and you look a bit disfigured." If he says so, Lisa will most likely break up with him, or, at least, she won't talk to him for a week or so. People often don't appreciate us telling what we think, even if we are really close to them and they know that we say what we have on our minds because we wish them the best. Therefore, all Lisa will hear at this point, "You look ugly," while what Jack will be trying to say is "You need another dress."

However, if Jack says something like, "I think you look prettier without the dress," or "I believe this color and shape doesn't show off your natural beauty in the way it should," he will be able to express his dissatisfaction with Lisa's dress, but he won't offend her, and she will probably take another look at herself and maybe see that she needs to get something different. Jack will still be sincere, as he won't approve the dress. The key is that he won't be negative about it trying to make a joke or give his girlfriend a hint about how things truly are.

As you can see from this example, politeness and desire to be friendly often require us to give up straightforwardness. We don't exactly lie when we don't say what we think. It is crucial, though, that we don't tell people what we don't think. As long as we are not negative about things we don't like, as long as we respect the right of others to be different and choose something we consider ugly or inappropriate, we can express our opinion about it leaving it up to them to listen to us or keep doing what they feel comfortable with. If you want to be truly useful to the person, you need to express your argument clearly. Tell them what you think can be improved, in a kind way, and make sure to add that this is what you would do.

Advise, but don't impose.

                                                                 

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