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Honesty can sometimes be unecessary cruelty

Honesty can sometimes be unecessary cruelty

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Not often does a book bring tears to my eyes, but “The Postmistress” by Sarah Blake had that effect. The book started off slowly. Since a trusted friend recommended it, I kept reading.

Not only was it a wonderful book but it presented powerful questions, such as when does an act of kindness override legality or morality? When is being truthful unkind or cruel?

My mother drummed into my head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But not saying anything at all can be construed as not caring, not listening or disregarding the other person. No one wants to be discounted.

Thoughtful behavior, kind words and gentleness toward living creatures is a place I long to be. The times when I’ve been angry, hostile or callous haunt me.

There is a thin line between tact and honesty. Some people feel compelled to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter how much their words sting.

I once had an upsetting conversation with a friend because he hurt my feelings. His response was, “I thought our bond was so strong we could say anything to each other.” What I wanted from him was gentleness, not brutal honesty.

The spoken word cannot be taken back. Writing something wounding is worse. Time may obscure the pain of the spoken word but something in writing can be processed over and over again. If you want to keep someone in your life, don’t devastate them with your words.

Situations arise where taking action can destroy. Suppose you spy a friend or a co-worker’s spouse involved in a tryst. Should you tell the person what you’ve seen? That one is easy for me to answer: mind your own business.

Other circumstances are not so obvious. What if you see your brother-in-law out with someone else? Kind of puts a whole different spin on what to do. Or does it?

Conversely, letting someone assume you agree with them when you don’t is unfair. Not voicing your opinion can cause pain down the line. Additionally, ignoring something that needs to be addressed can create a crevasse between two people that is impossible to bridge.

Saying malicious things without thinking doesn’t make sense. What I’ve learned from the writers’ workshops I lead is that “helpful” criticism can make the person being critiques feel as though they’d been stabbed. At the beginning of each workshop, I tell the attendees, “This is not a critique group. No criticism. We are here to encourage and motivate.”

Somehow, these words have made me more sympathetic. If we remember that people are fragile, that they need comfort and that they want to be accepted, the love we give them will come back to us in ways we could never anticipate.

The secret lies in caring more about the other person’s feelings than your own. Perhaps that is the definition of maturity.

Alexis Powers is the author of several books and lives on the northwest side. Email her at or view her website at

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