Saturday, October 27, 2007

Does my Ass look Fat in this?

I was sitting in a bar last night with a friend who had just gotten a new haircut and wasn’t sure how she liked it. For the record, I think it’s totally cute and I’m not just saying that. Anyway, a coworker of mine , whose other job is as a hairdresser, sat down next to us, and my friend asked her opinion of the haircut. My coworker immediately launched in with criticisms, pointing out straggly hairs and jagged layering, while I scowled at her from my barstool. It reminded me of an article I read on radical honesty, where the writer experiments with being totally honest, and interviews the proponent of radical honesty ,Brad Blanton. Last week, another young coworker (and yes, both of my coworkers in this scenario are young – she’s in her twenties, he’s still in college) proclaimed that he didn’t understand why people can’t just honestly tell each other when one person wants to leave a conversation. Ironically, only a couple of minutes before, I had been talking to him,(or I should say he had been talking at me) and I had desperately wanted to get out of the conversation. It made me wonder if the people who believe that are the ones who would hear that message the most.

But, I digress. My point is that I think complete honesty is a terrible idea. My friend felt bad about her hair and I had to spend time reassuring her, using the fact that my coworker is a hairdresser as proof that she doesn’t see my friend’s hair the way ordinary people would. What was the purpose of complete honesty, in that case? I suspect it made my coworker feel good, but it made my friend feel bad, and it didn’t result in any improvement of her hair. Granted, my friend shouldn’t have asked if she didn’t want to hear a negative answer, but what’s the harm in saying, “Oh, it looks cute”?

We live in a society with both written and unwritten rules of conduct. These rules are there to allow us to live relatively peaceably together, and most often these rules take into account the fact that we’re human, with human flaws. If everybody were perfectly serene and centered, with no need to defend their egos, radical honestly would make sense. Nobody would get hurt or offended, then. But we are very much NOT like that, and the unwritten rule of the little white lie is meant to protect our soft, squishy human egos from more pummeling than they already get in the world. Even in cases where someone really DOES want to hear the honest truth, it’s important to be careful. Even with friends and intimate partners, a little padding of a hard truth with a positive insight goes a long way in making life nicer for everyone. And I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be so. Yes, I would want someone to tell me if I have spinach in my teeth or if my pants are split in the back, but those truths actually save me from further embarrassment, But do I want a date telling me "I was really bored during our date, I think you're ugly, and I never want to see you ever again?" Hell no. All that would do is make me feel bad for no reason, and I wouldn't want to say it to someone, either. I would feel terrible.

It’s not my job to teach my friend – or anyone else – how to be ego-less. It IS my job to help build positive, supportive relationships with my loved ones. And if I have to tell a small lie or half-truth in order to make a friend feel good about herself, I will, and I hope she would do the same for me. But, I really DO think her haircut looks cute.

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