By Craig Funston
For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is playing and working with words. Mostly I express this through writing and speaking: one form of writing comes via this column; and speaking comes through teaching, preaching, quipping, and just plain old talking.
Ironically, the above is also one of my greatest weaknesses. (I’m just being “honest” with you here.)
I have done much damage with my talk in various relationships over the years—you know, the husband, father, teacher, and preacher roles. It bothers me and I wish I could repair all the damage I’ve done. It’s like throwing a dandelion to the wind, then trying to piece it back together again—it just can’t be done.
So now I try to think more before I speak, and respond better by using appropriate words. Even then, I don’t always succeed.
That’s one advantage of writing this column: I can delete, edit, and re-work before everything before it goes to print. I can’t do that when I speak. There’s no verbal “delete button” for my words.
Most thinking people reading this can probably relate to such miscommunication. If not, what’s wrong with you, loser? (Oops. Let me edit that. What I meant to say was: I’m sorry you’re struggling with that, dear friend.)
I’m sure I speak for many when I say that we want open, honest relationships. However, we can be too timid or touchy, and that’s a real problem. I know there are times I am just too thin-skinned. Makes it hard for those around me, but it also makes it hard for me, too.
However, the inverse is true, too: We can be so bold and brash that we say whatever is on our mind, to whomever is within hearing range. “Just being honest,” we say; “just speaking our mind.”
No, just being an inconsiderate and insensitive oaf, I’d say. (Did I say that kindly enough?)
There’s a balance somewhere in between: We need to speak openly and accurately, yes, yet with as little offence as possible. Doesn’t always work, but at least we can try. I have to work at this on a daily basis. (Just another “honest” confession on my part.)
The other side of the honesty discussion is when we’re on the receiving end of someone’s so-called honesty. Too much “honesty,” or whatever you want to call it, and we get hurt. It happens to me all the time, but at the age of 61, I have to suck it up, keeping smiling, and try to control my temper and tongue…or tears.
When someone offends me in a conversation, am I at ease to speak my mind? Can I assert myself (without tone) and push back? Seldom, if ever, have I developed the art of (what appears to be) a mature and controlled response.
If there is hurt, I usually just move on, without really dealing with it.
To date, I have never figured out whether that is actually the right response: Am I being mature or wussy? Under self-control or under an illusion? Choosing to push back or push on?
Obviously, we can be too touchy. This becomes yet another problem. But when there needs to be a frank response, when we need to speak our mind and we don’t, we complicate matters. Oftentimes the offender doesn’t know they have offended. Body language, vague words, or even stoney silence, say something, but they may not be honest, caring responses.
Honesty is the best policy, to be sure, but it is the most difficult policy. We have to develop the ability and courage to articulate our responses. Lashing out, screaming, or having some form of a hissy fit, are not the way to go. Never.
We need to take more risks with each other, then prepare to suffer some collateral damage along the way. It’s short term pain for long term gain. Open but discreet, vulnerable but firm, these qualities make for stronger relationships and deeper friendships.
Friendships. Remember how it was with your best friend in grade 5? You could be frank and fun with your pal-of-all-pals when you were ten. Too bad we can’t turn back the clock.
I’m sure we would all like to be more transparent with people. For myself, too often I have my guard up a mile high, as I tend to be consistently misunderstood. Foot in mouth? I have room for a rackful of shoes.
It starts with me (and you—you’re not of the hook. Oops, did I say that nicely?): We need to be a safe person (remember that column?) and we need to be around safe people. A safe person (me, you or the other guy) is one who is always there, shielding others from the waves of misunderstanding and the rocks of insecurity. We all need that deep harbour of warm, honest relationships.
I mean it, honestly.