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Telling them what they want to hear?

My friend’s computer expertise far surpassed mine.  And, he was willing to help me solve a particular problem I had with my Mac. Our several years of friendship made it natural for me to request his assistance. It wasn’t the first time.

So after a meeting in which we both participated, I got out the computer, pointed out the problem (and my ignorance), and asked if he could help resolve it. “Sure enough”, he said. And, within fifteen minutes, I understood what needed to be done once I would get home. He had resolved my problem.

With the computer problem taken care of, we had some non-computer conversation, talking about personal things in our lives. In the course of that conversation I realized I was giving him some advice that he was hoping to receive. He both needed and wanted to.

My behavior – consciously telling something to someone who I knew wanted to hear just what I said – is sometimes challenged. We are told to always tell the truth, regardless of knowing that it will bring pain to the other person. We are counseled, “Even if we know the truth is going to hurt, or if it is not going to be constructive, tell them the truth anyway.”

But, is truth telling that simple a matter. “Telling the truth” is not a stand-alone behavior. Rather, I suggest that there is more at stake. Merely telling the truth is not to be our goal. Telling the truth is part of the means to an end. Telling the truth needs to be “packaged” in kindness, in loving concern, in supportive language, with a hug (literally or figuratively), and with “I love you” permeating the telling of the truth. In fact, I admit that I am wondering if usually it is better to say nothing if I can’t package it in love.

I agree with the recommendation that we evaluate what we are planning to say with questions that go beyond, “Is it true?” – Questions such as: “Is it helpful?”. . . “Is it inspiring?” . . .“Is it necessary?” . . .“Is it kind?”  That recommendation is wise advice.

These questions provide parameters that point beyond the act of telling the truth. For, the reality is that telling the truth is not the end.  It is part of the means to the end.