Growing up, I was the peacekeeper in my family.
I become good at diffusing heated situations, at mediating between angry parties, and at lightening the mood. For a long while, my propensity to keep the peace came in conflict with my ability to be direct. I avoided conflict because, frankly, I couldn’t tolerate any more than I already had to deal with.
But right around the time I released the fear of being hated, I decided to develop the capacity for fearless directness in speech and words. I was on a mission, after all, to cut to the chase in more ways than one, and to help others do so in their spaces and lives. It would undermine my purpose if I couldn’t just come out and say what needed to be said.
So I started telling the truth.
I starting telling my friends the truth when they called and talked to me about whatever was happening in their lives. I told my clients the truth about what I observed in their spaces and life methodologies.
And the more I told the truth, the more people started asking me for it. Like anything else, the more I told the truth, the easier it became to tell it.
We live in a very strange culture as it concerns directness. To be honest is so often viewed as being mean, and being mean-spirited is too often mislabeled for “just being honest.” Women, in particular, struggle with directness. We are sugar and spice and everything nice, after all.
The surest way to avoid being a total bitch (female) or a raging asshole (male) is to cruise comfortably in the milk-toast lane of life on the say-something-without-saying-much-of-anything-highway, en route to Offend No One And Ruffle No Feathers.
Good friends are too afraid to tell each other the truth, and resort instead to saying things like, “you deserve so much better,” and “they missed out on such a great hire.”
As I said, for a long time, such responses felt like the safe bets for me to say, as well.
But then it dawned on me: what we really want and need from each other isn’t sympathy. We don’t just want someone to come and prop us up and agree with us about how hard we have it and how unfair it all is. Well, maybe we do sometimes. But mostly we rely on each other to keep us in check, and to remind us of what’s evident from an outside-ourselves perspective.
Each time I didn’t tell the truth, I was doing the people in my life a disservice. They were coming to me for the truth and I was sputtering some version of “don’t make me be the one to say it!”
When I realized it wasn’t about me and my experience of being honest, how comfortable or uncomfortable I was with telling it, but about the person I was with and what they needed from me, everything shifted. I saw that telling the truth is a duty we have to fulfill for each other.
Even now, though, there are moments when I wish I didn’t have to say certain things. There are truths I almost wish I could just skim over. There is still some lingering part of me that evidently believes being direct is in opposition to being kind, and that part of me just wants to lift people up and cheerlead for their progress. But the part of me that is connected to my purpose knows better. It knows that there are truths that are necessary to share, and it understands that the temporary discomfort of voicing them must pale in comparison to another’s need to hear them.
None of this being direct business grants one permission to speak without thinking. As much as we require honesty from each other, we equally require compassion.
Being direct does not grant one a free pass to say whatever comes to mind, and not even to say everything one thinks is true.
As it concerns communication, the way to show up for our family, friends, clients and coworkers and so on is to ask the following three questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
And 3. What’s the most loving way I can say it?