By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
I take the actual print newspaper version of our local daily, the Dallas Morning News. I read most of it every morning while eating breakfast. I am a regular reader of Heloise, Carolyn Hax and Judith Martin, aka “Miss Manners.”
Miss Manners has a daily column in which readers ask her questions about how to comport oneself during a variety of (usually) challenging situations. Given that the column explicitly states that it’s about manners, it’s no surprise that the answers reflect what Miss Manners believes are the gracious, mannerly options.
Occasionally, I have difficulty with some of her responses, which clearly suggest lying to the person about intentions, ignoring obvious insults by pretending someone must have misunderstood or avoiding any confrontations.
While I am all for being gracious when possible, I am more fully an advocate for being honest.
Many people respond to that comment with “brutally honest?”
No, not “brutally honest,” but rather kindly honest.
When possible, I recommend kind honesty instead of misleading, changing the subject or lying.
If Aunt Helen knits you a sweater that you think is hideous and you gush over it because you don’t want to hurt her feelings, she most likely will continue to make you one each year. If you’re okay with that, by all means, continue to do so.
She may, however, wonder why you never wear any of them.
If your date asks you if you would like to have Mexican food and that type of food gives you indigestion, I suggest you can politely and kindly say it doesn’t agree with you and make two or three alternate recommendations.
If your spouse or child asks what you would like for your birthday and you reply with “nothing,” don’t be surprised if that’s what you get.
Reading minds is exhausting and often wrong.
If you don’t give honest feedback to people who are important to you, they don’t really get to know you. They get to know some façade of your creation.
In a marriage, I believe we are obliged to be honest with our spouse. Kind honesty lets them know who you really are. If they are offended by your honesty or hurt by your honest responses, you can obviously choose a different route, soften your comments or they can learn more about you.
They may choose not to ask certain questions if they think they won’t like your answers.
In social situations, when you don’t think it’s a good idea to discuss politics or religious topics, you can honestly say you would prefer not to discuss those topics in that venue or perhaps can talk about them at a later time.
You are not obliged to explain why you decline an invitation, even if that invitation is to discuss something.
Being honest with friends and family members is often difficult and many are offended or not sure how to react. This is especially true when we set healthy boundaries with people who are not used to those.
Saying no when you don’t want to do something is just as important as, perhaps sometimes more important than, knowing when to say yes.
Remember, every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.
Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all.
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at email@example.com.