In elementary school, we’re taught to accept a very specific idea of kindness: “sharing is caring,” “treat others as you would like to be treated” and the like. Truisms though they may be, these doctrines are conceptually good rules to live by. The issue with them is that as time wears on and relationships become more complex than kickball matches at recess and crayon sharing, kindness takes on a whole new meaning.
The concept of “too nice” becomes a possibility; too many people spend their time trying to be diplomats or friends of everyone, giving off the impression that a personality can be universally compatible. But even children have to admit, in spite of everything they learn, that it’s just not possible to be liked by everyone or vice versa. So citizens, teach yourselves to recognize the fact that sometimes kindness and brutal honesty go hand-in-hand. Be yourself; be blunt; be an asshole, if necessary.
DO NOT READ THIS AS AN ENDORSEMENT OF INSULT. I’m not advising you to throw caution to the wind and start freely calling people sluts or fatties under the presupposition that they may end up not liking you anyway. Be kind – just understand that sometimes you have to be brutal to do so. As a matter of fact, I’ve found that the further I advance into adulthood, the more frequently it seems that the road to kindness is paved with cruelty.
“Yes, actually, you do look fat in that peasant dress.”
“I don’t have any romantic interest in you, just a heads up.”
“No, this column is not good. Don’t send it to the press or you’ll regret it.”
I’m not going to try to sugarcoat the fact that these kinds of comments sting (though being the flawless individual I am, I wouldn’t know from experience), but which is worse: temporarily deflating someone’s ego or knowingly allowing them to wear the unflattering outfit all day or obsess over whether or not you like them back? In the end, wouldn’t it be just as kind to hit them with a quick sucker punch dosage of honesty so that they don’t end up hurting themselves in the long run?
And then there’s the matter of your own peace of mind: people become so overcome by the embedded notion that kindness consists of not hurting someone’s feelings that they forgo speaking their mind. Interactions become built on complacent head nods and passive, insincere affirmations – attempts to quell insecurity and self-doubt. There’s no reason to do this; a genuine friend would view your most honest response as a form of support, regardless of the harshness of the delivery. “Yeah, you definitely fucked up in this situation. You really should have done X instead of Y.” Break the seal. If you care about someone, you owe it to them to be an asshole. And more importantly, you owe it to yourself.
For example, some friends of mine recently bought a cat, Adele, for their apartment in the Ramble. They post pictures of him on Facebook and Tumblr, capturing him in brief and rare moments of calm, but these are gross misrepresentations. Outside of the snapshots shared with their extended network, the creature spends his time lunging at hands and feet, chewing shoes, defecating tapeworm particles and eating everything within reach. “Isn’t he cute?” they ask.
“No,” I answer. “He’s an absolute fucking nightmare.”
Admittedly, this might be melodramatic, but I take solace in thinking that I expressed myself honestly and now my friends know how I really feel. It would have been just as easy to nod along and praise Adele’s ability to look adorable and lie in cute positions, but where would that get the conversation? Where would that get me?
Ultimately, it’s a more all-around cathartic experience for everyone when you speak your mind – unless, of course, it isn’t. Maybe it relieves you and just winds up leaving everyone else stunned and offended. Perhaps, rather than be pleasantly surprised, they’ll just be completely taken aback by your unabashed assertion of assholery in a place where most would choose a route of saccharine placation and pretty words. But next time you feel the need to tell someone they’re just a hookup or that they look like a manatee in their gray sweats, recall the immortal words of Sadie Saxton from “Awkward”: “You have to be cruel to be kind … You’re welcome.”
Share your brutal honesty or flat-out insults with DYLAN GALLAGHER via e-mail (email@example.com) or Tumblr ask (cleverblog.tumblr.com/ask).