It’s funny how seeing people publish your private communication without context or permission after a prolonged period of abuse and control makes you guard yourself so closely. It bleeds into everything, at times.
“Will this person respect that my feelings about xyz in this moment might change?”
“Are my feelings publication-worthy, publication-safe?”
“Can I trust this person?”
“May I express something I don’t fully endorse right now? That I might not endorse later?”
“Am I free in this relationship?”
Am I free in this relationship. Free from? Free to?
Is being fallible permitted? Will it be permitted after the relationship terminates?
Will words uttered in frustration now be used to alienate, control, shame me later?
It’s an excellent isolation technique. It’s excellent blackmail. It’s superb at silencing.
It’s extra strange because so much of my communication that was published by third parties was a product of how I was treated. Of course I flatter you when I reject you; it’s the only way to pacify an ego that is dangerous and unrelenting. Of course I counsel you; you’ve made it clear that’s my only use to you — you won’t engage with me outside of the context of care. Of course I am kind; you’ve made it clear that if I direct my frustration at unapproved sources I will be stonewalled. Of course I laugh; you’ve directly said that when my tears are caused /by you/ that they are ‘too much.’ I am only allowed to suffer at the hands of others, never you.
A lot of folks get rull pissy about lying. My perspective on that is perhaps a bit different. Lying is a survival tactic. Dishonesty, omission, misdirection — these things are armor. Like all things, it’s morally neutral and its wisdom is based largely on its utility and use. At it’s core, though, dishonesty is always about managing someone else’s experiences. Sometimes we do that to protect ourselves or preserve relationships during periods of limbo. Honesty — and our insistence on honesty — is the same way. Honesty and our insistence on honesty can be used for good or for ill. I’m now highly skeptical of too much honesty talk. If you spend more time talking about honesty than you do actually fostering and nurturing it, you’re probably trying to control me, my speech, my experience, or all these things.
It’s not hard to keep yourself and the people around you honest and eschew it being a Thing.
Reward honesty, even when it’s hard.
If someone tells you something you don’t want to hear, chances are, they already knew that was going to be a thing and have put themselves through some emotional gymnastics to get to a place where they’ve opened their mouthtalker about it to you. Honesty, no matter how routine, is always an act of courage, because when our truths are known, we are vulnerable to and accountable for them. There are easy ways to do things like express disappointment or frustration while still rewarding the courage required by the mouthtalker in question. You can say things like, “That wasn’t the answer I hoped for, but I know that must have been hard to say. Thank you for being so honest. I value that far more than the answer I hoped to receive.” You could also try, “That was hard to hear, but I’m so glad you told me! I care about you.”
There’s a difficult line to tread, especially with more difficult truths, between fostering and nurturing honesty and keeping the burden of care on the appropriate shoulders. In cases where someone has done something genuinely hurtful/dangerous/whatever, that burden of care should still rest with them. Confessing a difficult thing does not shift that burden on to the Confessor, no matter how hard it is to tell the truth. And nurturing honesty goes both ways, right? So here’s an example:
Person A: “I fully expect this truth to hurt you, and I am prepared for that.”
Person B: “You’re right that does hurt. Thank you for including my feelings in this.”
Person A: “I know I screw up, and I feel bad about that, but I want to carve out space for both of us to field our reactions and thoughts productively.”
Person B: “Thank you. I will do my best to do the same. Neither one of us is perfect, and I admit I am angry/sad/disappointed/hurt. Let’s take a break if we start to have trouble with it. I am here with you in this, and we can always come back to it, if we need to leave things unresolved to preserve the integrity of our conversation.”
Different people in different relationships may find that their mileage varies, but I have found that leaving out punitive measures has fostered far more honesty in my interactions on both sides of that conversation than any amount of pontificating ever could. In the example above, both speakers have positioned themselves such that they are not adversaries locked in a struggle for dominance and recognition, but rather cooperative interlocutors with a shared common goal: to heal and move forward, while moderating their own behavior in their own and in their shared interests. Ideally, both people walk away feeling truly heard, and that despite the emotional charge of a hard situation, that their honesty was rewarded with acknowledgment and care. That’s how one fucking nurtures a fucking thing. Cradle gently, treat with care and respect. It’s okay to raise your voice a little. It’s okay to express frustration. But don’t tell it what it wants to be when it grows up. Don’t steamroll it. Don’t invalidate it. It isn’t a time to talk about intentions or motives or what’s really real in the universe. It is time to discuss facts, reactions, and plans to move forward. Reflection upon and skeptical engagement with intentions can occur later, and is, ideally, a cooperative project about which both parties feel enthusiasm, if not a little trepidation.
Because here’s the thing. No one is entitled to your truthtelling. Maybe that’s a radical thing to say, I don’t know. People ought prove themselves worthy of your honesty. The people who fail to do should maybe have their role in your life questioned, sure. I try now to only keep company with people who have shown that they have earned, will respect, and ultimately cherish and nurture my honesty. That data is far more important than their explicit views on the subject, or whether or not they even have explicit views on the subject. I’m no Kantian when it comes to ethics — dogmatic beliefs are lame and cultish, and I’m far too pragmatic, and far too comfortable with the notion of my own limitations and flaws for that. I neither demand nor desire any kind of moral absolutes from the people I love. Dishonesty is not a sin — it’s a problem to solve. What is making someone’s lie necessary? Who and what might it serve, and what other ways to serve that purpose could we generate together?
This is especially true since it’s often the case that being truthful, even with ourselves, can be a challenge at times. We can sometimes hide the truth even from ourselves, and that is perhaps when we need the most help of all.