Sometimes the only way to make things right is to say what needs to be said as honestly as possible.
By Elizabeth Cutright
My friend’s son loves Judge Judy, which I think is hilarious. While we were on vacation, he kept switching channels – when he wasn’t playing Minecraft on his iPad – between Sponge Bob Square Pants and that fiery adjudicator. There’s a sort of symmetry, I guess, between Bikini Bottom and reality TV – something about oversized characters and snappy comebacks.
While Sponge Bob frolicked, for Judge Judy justice was serious business – no room for tomfoolery or subterfuge. As one of her real-life litigants struggled to explain the suspicious actions that had brought him before her bench, Ms. Judy admonished, “when you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.”
(We kept cheekily repeating that line to each other throughout our holiday – it just had a nice, 4th-of-July-ness to it that made it roll easily off the tongue).
The wife of a defense attorney I used to work for once said to me, “the truth makes sense, lies don’t”; which is a bit of adaptation on Judge Judy’s mantra, and over time I’ve found it to be a reasonably accurate test of veracity.
It’s just a variation of “honesty is the best policy,” that honorary maxim we all aspire to, but rarely master.
I believe that an important adjunct to striving for honesty is direct communication. So many of the world’s misunderstandings – as well as most episodes of Three’s Company – could be cleared up or avoided altogether if the parties involved would just say what they mean and mean what they say.
Just cut to the chase already.
I’m quite guilty of prevarication and rationalization – propensities fine tuned during three years of law school. I also hate to hurt people’s feelings. Since I can often imagine all variety of reactions to any one event or disclosure, I’m often crippled before I can even speak.
How do you say the right thing in just the right way?
As I get older, I realize more and more that the ability to speak your mind is at the heart of living authentically. We must, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “do the thing that must be done.” We must tell the truth even if it hurts. We must speak our minds, even when it’s uncomfortable.
And we should repeat the following phrases over and over again until familiarity softens their edges and they flow smoothly from our mouths:
“You hurt my feelings.”
“I’m sorry, but my answer is ‘no.’”
“I’m mad/sad/disappointed/upset with you, and this is why….”
“This isn’t working for me (or you, or him or her).”
Let’s cut our losses.
Let’s work on fixing this.
I can’t do this anymore.
I just don’t know what to say.
Sometimes, we have the best intentions when we muddle the facts or make vague excuses. Sometimes we’re not quite sure what the truth really is, and how we feel about it, until it all plays out. Sometimes, just trying to communicate is enough.
But I’m telling you – though you may not want to hear it – the truth (or some form of it anyway, the best one you can find at that moment at least) will simplify your life. It will ease your interactions, and it will help you avoid the melodramatic clusterfucks that threaten to suck us all into a wormhole of recriminations and despair.
Just say what needs to be said. Say it kindly. Say it authentically. Say it awkwardly or haltingly or in a note or through a song. Say it with an embroidered pillow or a supermarket bouquet. Use balloons or a greeting card.
Just take a deep breath and communicate.