The Pinocchio Principle

Have you ever noticed that most people have a real problem with the truth? Now, I do realize that 'the truth' is totally subjective, and each of us has our own reality, our own personal experience of whatever is happening to us and around us. We also have different perspectives and values, so what we pay attention to also differs from person to person. I've always found it funny that you're having a heart-to-heart, semi-serious conversation with someone and then all of a sudden, they lower their voice, look right into your eyes and ask 'Can I be honest with you?' What the fuck were they being up to that moment, dishonest? 

I also never really understood why so many women refer to 'speaking my truth'. I do get that it isn't always safe to point out shit that other people prefer to ignore or keep hidden. But what does it mean about our culture when we have to announce when we are about, to be honest? And, what exactly are we doing the rest of the time?

My relationship with honesty has always been, let's just say, complicated. This started pretty early in childhood. My adoptive mother was both crazy and abusive, a particularly nasty combination. One of her hobbies was being a pathological liar. She would shoplift and make up the most elaborate stories to get herself off the hook, even throwing one of us kids under the bus, on occasion. She told us lies about each other, in an attempt to ensure there would be no alliances within the family that didn't revolve around her.

My dad was an aerospace engineer, so he was no dummy, but when it came to my mom, he was either clueless or just didn't want to be bothered trying to figure her out and call her on her bullshit. She continued to get away with all manner of insanity throughout their 50+ year marriage. He was clearly a man who set the bar for honesty extra low. I studied her throughout my childhood, lying to people about where all us kids came from, indignant when anyone would innocently question our birth origins.

My mother's convoluted stories became increasingly impossible for me to keep track of, and remember which version she told to whom. I also became one of those kids who had a strong sense of right and wrong, often asserting 'that's not fair!" when observing things that didn't make sense in my inner world. The combination of these variables lead me to develop a communication style that is both honest and direct. If someone asked my opinion on something, I would give them the truth, as I saw it. In most cases, it was like the Dragnet TV show I had grown up with when the police detective was interviewing witnesses, 'just the facts, ma'am.'

At first, I was confused when people didn't seem to like my responses. They asked my opinion and I gave it, so what was up with that? I began to learn that when someone asks what you think about something, whether it is a friend, wanting to know what your impression of their current boyfriend, or your your boss, seeking feedback on their new marketing plan, they actually don't want you to tell the truth. Well, at least, not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You aren't on the frickin' witness stand, after all.

I must have had some unconscious fear of turning into my adoptive mother, the pathological liar, even though we had no DNA in common. I remember being dazed and confused when a supervisor told me I was flippant. He wanted my opinion and I gave it, but he was pissed when I told the truth. I began to realize that being asked for your thoughts, feedback, opinion or even a request to 'pick my brain' could be risky business.

For a period of time, I stopped being truthful. Frankly, I was sick of being called 'brutally honest' or 'blunt' by people who not only sought out my feedback but benefited from it. I'm especially good at analyzing what works and doesn't when it comes to communication, branding, and marketing, But, if you have a fragile ego, don't come to me for your typical Facebook group crowdsourcing response like 'Love it!" "Amazing!" 'Fabulous!" I will tell you specifically and precisely what I like and why, and what you need to do to improve it.

I've learned to stop wasting my time when it's clear to me that people just want to be complimented and stroked, but sometimes I still guess wrong. Occasionally, I will be rewarded for my honesty, by someone who genuinely wants to hear it. One of the best comments I've received from a client was to be called 'the speaker of uncomfortable truths.' Those five words told me so much, making sense of my lifelong struggles to understand why people seem to have so much trouble with what seemed so obvious to me, just be honest. Or not.

Maybe it has always been so, or perhaps we lost our ability to ask for and receive the truth from one another along the way. I had a recurring fantasy that everyone would wake up as a Pinocchio-like character. Any time they told a lie or were anything less than completely honest, their nose would grow, giving them away. Because they couldn't hide behind little white lies and half-truths, meaningless flattery and skillful side-stepping, manipulation and passive-aggressive innuendo, everyone would have no choice but, to be honest, or bear the brunt of an ever-increasingly nasal protuberance for all the world to see.

Maybe the reason we can't handle the truth is that we lack courage. Being honest isn't as easy as it sounds when everyone around you in pandering to be liked. I'm not as popular as I could be, but at least my nose is a normal size.

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