When someone asks me, “Can I be honest with you?” I’m pretty sure it won’t be followed by a compliment.

But the appeal to truth is meant to trump all other considerations – such as kindness.

During World War 2 in Germany there was a Luther pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who was killed for being involved in a plot to kill Hitler. He wrote some notes that were meant to become a book on ethics. In a letter he pointed out that the section on truth was written while he was lying to his Gestapo interrogators. He said that ethics should not be written in an ivory tower!

  • Bonhoeffer notes in his Ethics that if people are always expected to be honest then there are some questions that should not be asked. This is wise advice.
  • Another piece of wise advice is: if you ask a question be prepared for the answer. If you want a compliment it may be better to ask for it directly, otherwise we risk disappointment – which can lead to many a difficult moment in relatioships.

The Truth-Telling game is a way of hiding our cruelty.

And it is so dangerous because it allows us to hide our cruelty from ourselves. And it allows us to defend against others’ anger. Truth is surely a virtue, but it is not the only one – there are kindness and consideration too. We certainly need ways in our relationships to be truthful to each other – but the truth-telling game only gets in the way of this.

It is well worth putting in some time in, for any deep relationship, to thinking about finding ways to speak kindly and truthfully to each other.

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