How quick we are to voice emotions and thoughts to those to whom these make not the least difference in terms of personal relationship! Diss or defend a politician? No problem. Confess to having stars in the eyes for that sportsperson or movie star? Totally! Bitch about someone you dislike and hardly have any interaction with? Easy! Elbow and curse the man who grabs a feel in a crowded market? Satisfying. Argue with the AC repairman, sabziwallah or the kabadiwallah over how they are cheating you out of your hard-earned money? That is a birthright! Advising people on how to bring up children and have a great relationship with their spouses? Oh, I do it all the time! (Though it makes me wonder why I am approached for these things not only by those I know, but also many that I do not, their friends, and friends of friends as well.)
Being Honest – The Pitfalls
Ah, but coming out and telling your family that you really would rather not have your child spend time with that particular aunty or uncle who they hold in high regard, or the offspring of your siblings, or the kids of your spouse’s close friends? You are on slippery slopes. Never a problem telling someone their advances are not welcome, is it? But telling a person you have known forever that you love them? Oh no! How do you do that? Talk of enforcing rules in the house for your rebellious teen? Very tricky. Communicating to your spouse that you have an opinion of your own which is diametrically opposite to theirs on a controversial issue? Be ready to pack your bags and evacuate. Disagreeing with or questioning an action or decision? You just declared that you have no respect for them. And then pointing out an area you really think they need to work on to improve? Consider yourself divorced.
Being Truthful – The Paradox
This brings me to the realisation that it is way easier to be truthful with people who we do not have any kind of relationships with than with those with whom we do, particularly in expression of emotions. It appears that the closer our relationship with someone, the more we feel we are treading on eggshells. How come the people we are most invested in are the same ones with whom our bonds seem the most fragile? These are the ones we have to watch our words with; the ones who we are the most hesitant to show our emotions to. (Except if the emotion, words or thoughts are to their liking, that is.) This feels like a paradox.
Expressing Emotion – The Challenge
A truthful person should be able to express emotion and thought freely in close relationships, irrespective of whether these are pleasant or unpleasant, acceptable or objectionable, or welcome or undesirable to the listener. Logic says that there ought to be a feeling of utter safety in being truthful with those closest to you. Experience says otherwise. There are four reasons I have found that make me an untruthful person. Presumably, these are the same for most people:
- My expression of emotion or thought could be hurtful to the other.
- It would cause disharmony and conflict.
- It could end the relationship.
- I could be rejected.
Depending on the emotion or thought you are expressing and its context, any or all of these would have to be contended with. Expressing yourself without accepting the associated risk is impossible, however. So, we are truthful in varying doses depending on our capacity to work with the risk for all the factors in our list.
It needs courage to break free of this conundrum. Breaking free is just this: being truthful with yourself AND with the other. People who can do this as a matter of principle are worthy of admiration, though they sometimes risk being labeled selfish or even brutal.
Most of us are only partly free because while we may admit the truth of our emotions and thoughts to ourselves, we just never let the ones we love most dearly truly see us.
It would be so liberating to find the courage to be seen in all our raw nakedness. And still be loved.