Sunday, December 18, 2011

tact, honesty, regrets of the dying

My dad often tells me that I need to be more tactful.  He gets very angry when I voice unwelcome opinions to other people, and says that this is going to engender resentment which will one day bite me without me even knowing it.

My colleague Melissa also advises me that there's a time and place for things.  It's not my place to tell casual friends about negative opinions.  Her example is: "You can't tell someone that they have an ugly baby, unless it's your spouse."

She said that if I want to be radically honest, that's my choice.  But then I have to accept that it's not the norm in our society, and I must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

I'm not sure if I'm prepared to deal with the consequences!

Today I'm reading the list of Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

How to reconcile this?  I don't want to experience this regret as I'm dying.  But I also don't want to offend people and then regret it as I'm living.


ArC said...

I'm guessing those dying people weren't regretting their missed chances to tell casual acquaintances that the acquaintances' babies were ugly...

There are some unwelcome facts or opinions it's really not important enough to share. Other times, sure. Just pick your battles.

Wanda said...

I think the key is to let go not of your tongue but of the bitterness and resentment that can result from holding your tongue. You do point out that one possible consequence of speaking honestly is to "release the unhealthy relationship from your life." There are some relationships in my life that are too valuable to endanger.

Also, do you really think people develop illnesses relating to bitterness and resentment? Stress can contribute to being susceptible to illness, but many things cause stress.

I think people need to lead an examined life. Once you say, "I am undergoing one stress, that of holding my tongue, so that I avoid the stress of arguing," it is easier to be at peace with the choice. That applies to the other things on the list too. If you ask yourself, "Which makes me more unhappy- working all the time, or not being able to buy nice things?" your answer will tell you what you should do.

In any case, you are not old. How many years of your life will you have to spend with the people you are offending, and how many years are you going to spending dying?

Anonymous said...

I don't see an inconsistency that needs reconciling. Unless your feelings are quite extreme, you should be able to express them tactfully, with a little effort and practice. The impact of a statement can change radically with small adjustments of tone.

Unfortunately, we are often exposed to the message that brutal honesty is cool and edgy, while tactfulness is dishonest. This dichotomy seems to encourage the sort of behavior that leads to more mutual tension, not less. Once in a while, a barb can shake people up in a positive way, but more often, it's an indication that the speaker is too lazy and self-centered to think about how others might react.

DoJ said...

There is a small minority of people who declare themselves to be operating under Crocker's Rules. Should you encounter one, you should be radically honest toward them.

For everyone else, though, there's no substitute for social judgment. (I realize that I haven't always been the best at exercising that...)