The Density of Honesty, the Lightness of Politeness

When did we decide that it's more important to be polite than to be honest? Somehow, over the last few months, I've said one thing after another that has gotten me into some kind of trouble. Every time, my first experience is shame. Woops, I shouldn't have said that, I guess; they took offense. But when I really reflect on it, I always come up with the same answer: that all I did was tell the truth. That all I did was have an opinion. So how do I end up getting gaslit into believing that somehow it isn't ok to have opinions and to express them? Wtf?


When I was kicked out of my two year acting program (don't worry, I'm working on a longer piece about this if you're morbidly curious), it was for, and I quote, "talking about the work with [my] colleagues." Really. Somehow, discussing the work we were doing in class and expressing my honest opinions was characterized as unprofessional gossip. I was supposed to feel ashamed that a couple of other students felt offended and felt they couldn't work safely in the presence of my opinions (since I said them out loud). I won't even address that we were all talking about the work and attempt to unpack the psychology behind why I was singled out as the problem. But I will add that the leader of this institution never even considered encouraging the other students to manage their own boundaries and let me know what I'd said that had offended them, much less ask me, personally, to keep my opinions to myself. Gods forbid we should rise to that level of directness and self-advocacy.


Can we really, truly reflect on this? This is only the biggest and most impactful instance in a pattern that constantly swirls along in my reality as a person with strong opinions, who enjoys expressing them, has a low filter, and generally expects other people to manage their own boundaries and be open to feedback and up for discussion. I have been repeatedly shamed just for disagreeing, after someone chose to express their opinion in public. Am I on a game show? Am I being pranked?


Capitalism is not not to blame. As usual. We have books like, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," that are steeped in Capitalist values of persuasion and salesmanship and that have shaped our cultural idea of how to interact with one another. Somehow we've collectively decided that it's better to pull one over on our fellow man than to challenge and be challenged and learn not to take it personally.


The other day I mentioned to the baristas of a coffee shop I frequent that my friend and I had had a less-than-great service experience with a fellow employee and the reaction I got, from one of them, left me feeling ashamed, as if I'd been rudely talking shit behind her back. It took me some time to process that I was not being catty for giving feedback to a business that I care about.


The amount of emotional labor I do, just undoing the internalized narrative that being honest and direct makes me a monster, could fund my dog's expensive raw food for a year. If I got paid for it.


But the initial question expresses everything that's important here. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the majority of us decided that it is more important to be polite than to be honest. Place these two things on the scales and really weigh them in your mind's eye. Which seems more valuable? Politeness or honesty? Politeness is superficial. Honesty is transformative. Sure, politeness is more comfortable. It doesn't hurt people's feelings. But other people's feelings are their responsibility. We cannot run a society rooted in a desire to avoid discomfort so strong, that we'll perpetuate the false belief that we must avoid making others uncomfortable at the cost of the truth. Even if that truth is just an opinion. We should be able to discern between capital-T-Truth and someone's opinion. We should not avoid giving feedback, we should learn how to receive it. Learn how to differentiate between opinions you want to accept and those you want to dismiss. And learn how to form opinions that are useful.


It's wrong to imply that only certain people should be allowed to express their opinions. Plenty of people lacking traditional qualifications can form valuable opinions that should be considered. Being honest, and understanding how to evaluate the honesty of others, is multi-fold. We should be able to understand what we're empowered to have opinions about. Our opinions should be well-examined and expressed with the appropriate level of certainty. We should be able to hear opinions without taking them as a challenge to our worth. We should be able to examine the opinions of others and discuss them with compassionate rigor. We should not be sliding on silk gloves every morning to lubricate the complacency and idiocy that comes with shunning honesty in exchange for comfort. That's a fucking bad idea.

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