Before I dive into this post, I need to say two things, and I need to say that what follows may ruffle a few feathers. I’m not perfect and am constantly being transformed, but part of my working this out is being done as I write it out.
First of all, I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in New England. My mom, dad, and brother were also all born in Brooklyn. The New York directness of which people speak was inherited by me. If there was something to be said or talked about, we pretty much put it on the table. There weren’t a lot of rugs in my house under which we could sweep things. As hard and uncomfortable as it was to be direct, I experienced it frequently in my family and I think I am a better man for it.
Second of all, I’m not a big political guy. Like other things in life, politics, to me, is a necessary evil. I was the kid who came home in elementary school from a mock election voting for the opposite candidate that my parents had supported. When I told them who I’d voted for, I got a stern talking to in order to set me right. As the decades have worn on, I’ve been just as jaded as everyone else with the political climate in the United States. But, regardless of my dislike or disagreement with a political figure, I’ve still understood that there should be a certain amount of respect that’s due a political candidate, usually because they’ve earned it.
Political correctness, in my opinion, feels like the bane of my existences, mostly because it seems to fly in direct opposition to honesty and truth. While I was raised outside of New York City and I understand and embrace the directness that stems from that subculture, I have also learned over the years that while directness is a good thing, tempering that directness is also an essential part of getting people on board. That’s not to say that I do that well all the time, but it’s something that I have grown in and something which I am constantly striving to get better at doing. Just because something is true doesn’t mean that it needs to be said or said in its truest fashion.
As my wife and I were talking the other day, I was lamenting the fact that there is so much hatred, anger, and animosity that spews all over social media and the media in general. Criticism is one thing, but hatred is a completely different animal. I’ve received enough of my own criticism to understand that there is value in that when it is received and applied well.
But I’ve struggled with the fact that we are not a nation of truth tellers and we don’t seem like we want to be told the truth either. Some people would rather be lied to and be treated well then be told the truth and treated poorly.
What’s worse is that people have somehow equated telling the truth with being mean and nasty and lying as being nice, as if we’ve set up limitations that you can only be one or the other. I can either lie to you and treat you kindly, polishing my speech and candycoating my flaws, or I can speak freely, frankly, and harshly while not caring how my speech comes across.
I don’t think it’s either/or.
We have seen people in the public eye who are forthright and honest but who are complete jerks about it. They cut right to the point, which may be a draw, but their delivery is atrocious and offensive. But why can’t people be direct and kind at the same time? Is it possible to speak the truth in love with a genuine desire to tell people the truth while still being careful and sensitive to what’s being said and how it’s being communicated?
At the same time, why do we have to put on all kinds of fronts in public in order to hide the beast that seems to be lurking behind closed doors? That’s been more than apparent as we’ve seen on a larger and larger scale in the area of sexual harassment. People who have looked polished and clean on the outside have really been devious predators behind closed doors. What’s causing this?
My heart goes out to all of these women (and men) who have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault against some fairly high profile people. The courage that it’s taken to stand up and speak into such a difficult and damaging situation is something that I applaud. But what is it that has caused this? Something has propagated this to the level that it’s at and I think it goes much deeper than anyone is willing to admit.
Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to get a lot of press, but it’s usually only certain of his words. We seem to forget the whole picture and just like our culture and the media, we like to soundbite things that support our own cause. I realize that in saying that and then quoting Jesus, I may be doing that very thing, but bear with me a second. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” In other words, let what comes out of your mouth be truth, don’t shift your words or waffle around.
One of the conversations that I’ve had with my boss lately has been about what this looks like in our church. How do we become lovingly honest? A phrase that has been used in regards to what that looks like is being ruthlessly self-aware. We become ruthlessly self-aware as we are able to have honest conversations with each other, lovingly and willingly entering into dialogue to talk about things that may be uncomfortable but, in the end, are worthwhile because of the growth that can take place when those conversations happen.
I’ve grown tired of the loss of integrity in our culture. That’s not to say that I am perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do my best to make sure that who I am in public is who I am in private as well. It’s not always easy and to be honest, when who I can tend to be in private comes out publicly, it provides accountability with people who are close to me who confront me on these glaring issues that they see.
So what would it look like if we moved towards these kinds of relationships and conversations? How would it be if we didn’t feel like being honest always meant being a jerk and being nice always meant lying to someone’s face?
I think that we can be lovingly honest. It’s something that I want to strive towards and hope that those who are closest to me will strive for the same thing. That kind of approach can go a long way in changing more than just ourselves and our relationships, I think it can move out and help others to strive towards the same thing themselves.