After yesterday’s post on honesty (which, in retrospect, I probably should have divided into “not lying” and “being honest about who we are”) a friend posited this question that’s been on his mind: Is it ok to hold back a truth for a better moment to share it with someone?
This question, of course, shamed me into backpedaling on yesterday’s tribute to honesty in that it caused me to re-evaluate when we should hold back a little bit. This is not the first time I’ve given thought to holding back, since my nature is not to hold back and I have to be very intentional about it. These are times I bite my tongue:
When one of us is having a bad day
The day I fall in front of a group of people is not the same day to let a co-worker know that I would really like him to throw out the lego church projects that have been sitting on the radiator for four months. Something tells me I won’t use the right tone. Similarly, when a friend is stressed about law school applications maybe I should keep my perma-angst to myself.
When I am completely irrational
This is not the same as when I am moderately irrational, which is always. If whatever negative emotion I am going through is keeping me from seeing clearly, it is my responsibility to censor myself. If it is a positive emotion that keeps me from seeing clearly, I usually let ‘er rip.
When I can get my Ignatian on instead
“Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words”, and all that. If I can do something, maybe that’s better than saying it. Besides, then when I go too far I can always fall back on “I never said that!”
When who We are comes into conflict with who I am
The level of honesty to which I am accustomed may not jive with the type of honesty that a relationship can sustain. For example, I am closer with my mother than with any other person in the world. I can be myself with her and be honest with her. Despite this closeness, there are still things she doesn’t want to know, and sides of my personality that she doesn’t need to see.
Speaking of proximity/intimacy: I have learned the hard way those play a role too. I don’t really have a setting between stranger and friend, and I often meet people and realize that we are going to be The Best Friends in the Whole World. I am learning – slowly – that I do not need to tell my new friend that immediately upon meeting them.
The “We” changes from moment to moment. A group of my closest friends around a dinner table might be the same people at a faculty meeting, or a liturgy, or a panel discussion at the JFK Library. Blasting the room with my honesty in those varying situations would be met with reactions of similar variety.
None of these instances would cause me to lie, but they might cause me to hold back a little bit. That’s not deception but mercy.