I'm always tempted to write about Radical Honesty, but I never do because I don't practice it. I don't lie, and will be radically honest when it's requested, but I don't offer it habitually.
(if you don't know what Radical Honesty is, it's the idea of saying what's on your mind-- always-- with no regard for social convention.)
Radical Honesty's opposite is Standard Dishonesty. Not the pathological lying or deception we encounter sometimes, but the polite withholding of feedback that we all practice on a daily basis.
One of the things I like most about cruise ships is that I get to hang out with a lot of old people. I don't know how this fits in with the rest of my personality, but I really do enjoy spending time with and having conversations with old people (that's for you, Todd). Cruise ships are packed with them, and the random group seating in the dining rooms ensures plenty of face time.
The downside to chatting with old people is that a few of them are totally socially inept. We're talking about people who have made it, with some level of success, through eighty years of life or so, with outrageously annoying social skills.
An example: an old man who cuts you off halfway through every sentence, and manages to consistently steer the conversation to his mostly dim view of various computer warranties.
These people are in the minority, of course, and this isn't at all senior specific. The only reason I bring it up for old people in particular is because it makes you realize that they've gone through DECADES of life with terrible social skills and haven't changed.
My first question is: "How could this POSSIBLY happen? How could they go so long and not realize that they're so off?"
Then I quickly realize that I'm the answer. Like everyone else, I sit there and engage in standard dishonesty. I throw in half a sentence of condemnation for Best Buy, and feign interest when he interrupts me and moves on to Dell's in-house warranty services.
How could he know that he's boring me to tears when I'm doing my best to lie to him and pretend that he's not? Who, throughout the course of his life, has done any different?
What would have happened if, sixty years ago, a friend had sat him down and said, "You know, George, you have a bad habit of-- wait, let me finish-- interrupting people and talking about the warranty on your typewriter. You should really consider paying more attention to what other people are saying."
What if ALL of his friends were that honest with him?
It's tough to say where my responsibility lies. Maybe I should have been the one to say it. Sure, he'd hate me and tell his wife (how does SHE deal with it?) that I'm a punk, but maybe the thought would rattle around in his mind and have a positive impact eventually. Or maybe it would offend him and he'd get nothing out of it.
Standard dishonesty is cowardly, and I say that with the admission that I'm no stranger to it. We can rationalize the impact honesty would have on the recipient's feelings, but what really stops us from giving it is our fear of repercussions.
I don't know about you, but every time someone has told me something tough, I've appreciated it. Receiving honesty is a gift, but giving it is a real act of courage.