…Can’t We All Just Be Honest?…

Sometimes, I just wish people could tell you exactly like it is—instead of the, “yeah, I’m just not in a space to commit to a relationship right now”, they would just say, “my ex just called me and wants to get back together and right now we are splitting custody of the dog so it would be easier to get back together with her”; instead of, “sorry, we went with another candidate”, they just said, “well, we already had someone we wanted to hire who happens to be the boss’ step daughter, but we just had to interview you for legal reasons”; instead of, “we had a large pool of applicants and unfortunately, you did not make the selection for the program”, they would just say, “we noticed a typo in your resume which automatically rescinded your admissions to the program”; instead of, “we didn’t invite you to the wedding because we invited family only”, they said, “we didn’t invite you to the wedding because we are poor and only wanted to invite those who could pay for our honeymoon”.

Receiving this honest feedback would make my life so much easier. I would know that there is nothing wrong with ME that the boy went back to his ex, and therefore, would not have to spend any time, worrying about whether I said something off color, I would not have to ask myself if I was pretty enough, and I would not have to waste my time stalking his profile and commiserating with my friends. If I knew I didn’t get the job because there was already someone else in mind, then I wouldn’t have spent as much time researching the company, networking with past and current employees, learning the company-specific jargon. If I knew my typo was the only reason I didn’t receive entrance into the program, then I would retract all of my other applications right away and fix the error. If I knew I didn’t get invited to the wedding because my friend knew I couldn’t afford a nice present, then I wouldn’t blame her (if I were in her position, I wouldn’t invite the poor ones either…)

But, alas, we cannot be honest, because we are dealing with people who have feelings, and we are dealing with systems that must always be politically correct. We live in a world in which, when people are too honest with each other, we risk an emotional breakdown, a backlash, and potentially a lawsuit.

I’ve been obsessed with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (both novel and T.V. series—why I have never indulged in it before now, I do not know), and have been intrigued with the inability for the handmaid’s to be honest with each other (of course, this is a systematic restriction—it is not something they necessarily want to abide by). When Offred and Company takes their weekly walks, there is a prescribed set of words and phrases that they can use with each other—they are not allowed to be honest, because honesty is bad. When the doctor asks Offred how her Commander treats her, Offred cannot be honest with him, because that is dangerous. And even when things are blatantly said, are those things honest? Can Offred trust Nick? Even though he says he has her best intentions in mind, is that an honest statement?

Sometimes, I feel like I live in a world full of ‘got cha’s’ and ‘tests’—people have expectations, and they want to see if you live up to those expectations, but they never explicitly tell you what those expectations are so that you can determine if it is a good fit for you or not—they just want to see if you will ‘do’ it. We totally do this in dating—when you go on a first date with someone, you are looking for markers—do they open the door for you? Do they offer to get the check? Do they ask you investigative questions about yourself?—they will never give you instructions and say, “If you don’t open the door for me, then I’ll reject you”, or, “I only let men on the second date who are chivalrous enough to pay the bill”, or, “I want to tell you these things about myself”, but if you don’t do one of those things, you get rejected. In a job situation, they will never say, “We only hire people who use ‘this kind of phrase’ in their wording’, or, ‘Make sure that you touch on the flex time off policy’, or, ‘If you say you prefer Chick Fil A over Raising Canes, then you automatically won’t get hired”—but rather, they wait for you use to these certain phrases to say you are ‘in’, or if you say one wrong thing, you automatically are pushed to the ‘out’ category.

This is why the study of English is so important—being able to make inferences and decipher the meanings of what is unspoken and what is in between is crucial to being able to decode and understand the world. Because people cannot be honest, we must learn how to interpret language in order to make meaning. The types of words they use, their non verbal communication, the inflections in their speech can all give us clues to decode these ‘hidden’ meanings—but we must first develop a keen sense of awareness in order to interpret.

In literature, we study concepts, such as symbolism, because sometimes in life, there are things we just cannot say—perhaps because it is too dangerous to say them, because it is too difficult to say them. In ancient Chinese literature, because it was dangerous to speak against the emperor, writers used the symbols of dying trees in order to represent the sick government. When therapists do play therapy or dream interpretations, they are looking for how concrete objects represent abstract ideas. Sometimes, our honesty must be clouded, but through interpretations of symbols, we can discern accurate meaning. In rhetoric, we study how the structure of language is used for manipulations and persuasion. When we are keen on analyzing language, we can pick up on the negative phrasing of a conversation, and be able to predict that this person is not really into this conversation.

….wouldn’t the world run much smoother if we could all just be honest with each other?…

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