To Tell You The Truth…

Words like honesty and transparency are tossed around a lot lately in various social media circles. Consumers and readers are tired of the canned media message that’s been passed through several marketing and public relations reps. “Just tell the truth,” is the mantra of the public.


masks bannedBecause I’m all about honesty, and there are many circles in which I’m not popular for that trait. “Why can’t you just pretend, this once?” Because I can’t. First of all, I’m horrible at lying – like catch-me-every-time bad. I think I’ve been gifted with Pinocchio’s proverbial nose for lying. And secondly, people should be held accountable for what they say. As much as society decrees to ‘just be honest,’ the sword of truth has a sharp double edge.

For instance…

If you don’t really want to know how I’m doing, then don’t ask – because I’ll tell you. I have learned to employ a filter, but my warning system is apparently flawed because not many ‘get it.’ Here’s a typical scenario of those superficial greetings that take place every day:

“Hey, Lisa. How’re you today?”

Shrug. “Meh, I’ve had better days. How about you?”

And this right here is a turning point. I’ve been honest, but recognizing that this person doesn’t want all the dirty details and is more likely using a social custom that really means ‘Hello,’ I spare them the details. Why can’t ‘Hello’ stand on its own without tacking on meaningless pleasantries? *shakes head*

“Oh, what’s wrong?”

Ah – see, there it is. Fair warning has been delivered. They asked. The wide-eyed stare and feeble apology for a quick exit isn’t necessary. If you really didn’t want to know what’s bothering me, then why ask?

And my return response is quite genuine. I can handle listening to someone’s personal woe. I’m not one gifted with empathy however, so don’t take offense if my response is simply – ‘Wow, that sucks’ or ‘Oh, well let me know how that turns out.’ I really do mean it. If I wasn’t prepared for the honest answer, I would’ve just responded with a simple ‘Hello’ back.

And before you dismiss me as a socially-awkward Sheldon, I’m not rude or insensitive – not purposely. I struggle with the appropriate social custom in certain situations, but I’m alone a lot and I like it that way.  My ability (or impairment depending on your point of view) to separate myself from everyone else’s problems allows me to interview drug addicts who share about abusing women, getting high, and hearing first person accounts of beatings and family heartbreak. I interviewed a man who had spent more time in jail than out and had worked for the mafia as an enforcer, break down in tears sharing about the daughter he hadn’t seen in 7 years. I’ve listened to how Oxycontin ‘grabs you by the short and curlies,’ failed suicide attempts, and heartbroken parents. I’ve interviewed prostitutes, drug dealers, humanitarian workers, and missionaries – and every one of them carried tremendous burdens that haunted their waking hours.

It’s life. And life is messy. And people are broken.

Everyone is broken by something whether they were bullied, abandoned, abused, neglected, overlooked, fell short, struggled to overcome an obstacle, or made choices that left them facing tough consequences (this list isn’t exhaustive). In being honest, I like to think I give them freedom to be honest right back, and to be broken – but mending.

But to be honest requires one to really know themselves, and be comfortable in their own skin – which is an ongoing introspective journey that’s never easy.

What do you think? Is honesty the best policy? Ever wished someone was more or less honest with you?


I’m on Twitter and G+, but I hang out on Facebook – would love to chat :) I post great writing links everyday on the Girls With Pens Facebook page, or you can subscribe to my profile here.


20 comments on “To Tell You The Truth…

  1. Thankfully, I don’t have a lot of weird stuff going on in my life to share. So, it makes the “it’s all good” response true. Years ago, when there was a lot of wackiness, it took a few awkward moments for me to judge whether a person really wanted to know or not.

  2. Lisa, Small talk drives me nuts. Advice can be even more poisonous. The one social nugget that entertains me, though, is when I meet a relative stranger say at 5:00 pm, and she says to me, “Have a nice day!” (Exclamation point meant to indicate melodic upswing of la voz.) I want to say, “The day is almost finished, schweetheart, but I’ll try my best to please myself at least until sunset.”

  3. Ooh, another ‘honesty-girl’. This is me too! I really try to filter because I would never want to hurt someone but if someone presses me, I’ll give it to them straight. Often my reply to ‘how are you’ is ‘can’t complain’ or ‘I’m hanging in there’ which is usually true. 🙂

  4. This is a question people ask me all the time. Why? Because I am brutally honest. I can’t lie face-to-face. My eyes shine and I can’t help from smiling. It’s a horrible trait, but wait. Is it, really? I’ve even been nicknamed the “B” word on numerous occassions because of my brutal honesty. Sorry. I’d rather hear it (and thankfully I have thick sckin), therefore I have made the conscious decision to dish it out.

  5. Depends on the situation. I prefer honesty but not if it involves how big my thighs or butt look. Hey, have to draw the line.

  6. Your transparency and honesty are high on the Reasons She’s My Friend list. To me, I equate these traits with courage. When we’re transparent we risk rejection. However, as you mentioned, we also give others permission to be themselves – and that’s Important. Thanks for this post, Lisa. Kudos for your honesty!

  7. My philosophy has always been to tell the truth, because if you can’t handle the truthful answer, don’t ask me, cuz I’ll give it to you. And when I’m asked one of those tricky “gray area” questions that requires a politically correct response, I have a great fall back answer. For instance when someone asks me how their new outfit looks and I don’t think it looks good, I’ll say this, “you look unbelievable,” and let them decide.

    Now have I always been honest? Let’s just say, my history with telling the truth is – unbelievable. You decide.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  8. Often when asked how I am I simply smile. It saves me pouring negativity all over some innocent, and the smile often makes me feel better anyway. Having said that, I cannot imagine doing your job. I am grateful that folks like you exist to do these things, for they do need to be done. Your strength inspires me, and I promise never to ask how you’re doing.
    So, Hi there, it’s good to see you. 🙂

  9. I have this same problem. I’ve learned to start answering with “good” or “okay” when people ask how I’m doing, at least if it’s someone I don’t know well, even if that’s not how I feel. It’s just what people expect. Every now and then I find myself being honest, and it usually throws them off guard. I feel like “how are you?” should mean more than “hello.” Shouldn’t we genuinely care how people are doing and not be surprised when they reach out to us or answer honestly? It’s a very strange custom.

  10. I’m a horrible horrible liar. I have this weird inability to do it. AND I’m a people pleaser. The two things do not go well together. So I find myself keeping myself shut a lot. This is why I don’t review books on my blog. This is why I want all blurb requests to go through my agent. In a way it’s being a chicken, but I’ve learned many times people don’t really want honesty.

  11. I have to admit, I have some rock-solid filters in place, not so much because I have a problem with being honest, but because I have issues with trust. There are so many things about myself that I choose not to tell people, in large part because I’ve gotten stabbed in the back by “friends.” I play it safe these days, though it definitely sucks, because it’s hard to keep a guard up all the time. I’ve learned to identify the handful of people with whom I can be real.

  12. You’re right about truth having a sharp double edge. If telling the truth will put someone’s life in danger, then I’m not going to answer a question like that. For instance, “Did my girlfriend cheat on me with blah blah blah?” Or if telling the truth would hurt someone deeply or cause a crap-load of complications, then I’ll keep it to myself. Depends on the situation and as far as the social pleasantries, if I’m rushing to get to work or somewhere and don’t have time to listen, then I’ll just say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day” or whatever. Otherwise, I stop to listen. I have a lot of empathy, and I couldn’t handle interviewing all those people that you do. Nope, I’d carry it with me for a long, long time. You must be very strong to deal with all that. It tears me up when I run into those kinds of people.

    • I’ve never thought about it before, but I guess I takes a certain personality or ability to be able to distance yourself from the stories you hear and then write about them. I generally think about myself as an empathetic person, but I clearly have an “off” button somewhere that I don’t even know about since I’m like Lisa and can hear people’s stories and keep enough professional distance to write about them after. You’ve given me something to think about, Lynn.


  13. I have also learned to filter through the years. I have a tendency to tell things like they are and people rarely want to hear it. Now I just nod and wave or simply answer with a “good.”

  14. I agree with you and I think that you are in the right. It is some weird American cultural thing to lie and pretend that everything is ok. Maybe it comes from the puritan roots? I’m not sure, but it is for sure not in-line with the culture I was raised in. If someone asks how I’m doing, I’m going to be honest. A lot of the time I am actually happy. I am one of those people whose natural setting is happy. I think it comes from dancing and singing a lot, just another part of how I was raised. But I also expect honesty in return and I set my boundaries. There are times I don’t want an answer, and I didn’t ask a question. Like, when I just painted my living room and I say, “Hey I just painted and I love it!” There is no question there, so if you tell me I missed a spot, I will remind you that I didn’t want a critique. It’s best to be honest. That’s the only way you can really be true to yourself. And maybe if more people are honest, we can break through some of these aspects of American culture that are making life less enjoyable. Just don’t ask someone if your butt looks big in those pants. You already know the answer!

  15. Well here you are! It took me a while, but I found ya.

    Honesty. Are people really honest anymore? Sometimes I wonder. Lately I’ve been hit by so many lies. What gets me, is that the people who are lying are awful liars. So then I ask myself, “Are my expectations of these people too high? Am I setting myself up to be disappointed?” I don’t think so. Oh yes, I carry the shield with me at all times. And each time this happens the trust meter drops a level or two. I just don’t get it. Just be honest, be upfront. How many times do we see people have to backstroke or dig their way out of the ditch they just put themselves in.

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m the one that’s stupid. But being honest is the only way I know how to be. Perhaps I might be opening myself up to hurt. So be it. Honestly is what you’ll always get out of me, although that said, I will only give you my honest opinion if asked. And it will be seasoned with kindness, compassion and diplomacy.

    You sure push my honesty button today. I’m getting off my high horse now.

    I love the comments from your post. There’s some great people in our wana1011 class. See you soon!

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