My mom has always said that I’m “honest as the ace of spades.” I’m not really sure what that means exactly, but one thing is certain: I’m very honest. What you see is what you get, for better or worse.
The trouble with being an honest person, however, is that you also assume everyone else is honest too. You assume people have good intentions. You assume people are trustworthy and kind. And well, that’s just not the case.
Unfortunately, I’ve been burned by my overly trusting, assume-good-intentions philosophy far too often. And I suspect I’m not the only one. We might have been burned by a colleague who takes credit for our idea. Other times, it’s a stranger who takes it upon themselves to criticize and judge us for our parenting decisions. And sadly, sometimes, we get hurt by so-called “friends” who give us crappy advice or make us feel like shit in order to boost their own ego.
I am legit shocked when I find out that someone is spreading alternative facts. I’m dismayed when I hear about folks embellishing details to serve their own purposes. And I’m angry to know that there are people out there who use “honesty” to put other people down. Maybe I suffer from Pollyanna Syndrome, but I just don’t understand how people can behave this way — and still sleep at night.
But they do.
After getting burned more than once, I’ve learned to rely on a few close friends and family for advice and guidance. But given my propensity to naively assume that everyone has good intentions, it can be hard to know who to trust and believe. Who is legitimately trying to help, and who is just feeding their own ego? Is this person trying to lift others up, or keep others down? And does this person even know what the hell they are talking about?
They say honesty is the best policy, but what if someone’s version of “honesty” is really just a crock of heartless shit? What happens then? How do we know who to trust?
Well, Elizabeth Gilbert has some great advice for us overly trusting folks. After she was hurt by a “friend” who kept giving her awful, mean-spirited advice in the name of “brutal honestly,” Gilbert came up with the following four-part test that she asks herself before trusting someone with her creative projects or asking for professional advice:
– Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
– Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
– Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
– Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?
To break it down for those of us who aren’t best-selling authors and creatives, Gilbert’s criteria basically boils down to this: Does this person have good judgment? Do they understand me? Do they want what’s best for me? Are they a nice person?
If the answer isn’t yes to all these things, she recommends not confiding in this person and taking on a “thanks, but no thanks” attitude in response to their advice. Armed with her four-factor filtration system, Gilbert said she’s able to surround herself with people who are genuinely interested in helping her be her best self, instead of feeling trapped by people who hold her down.
When I started thinking about who would meet all four of these criteria in my own life, I realized that the number is really quite small. And that’s okay. We’re operating with information overload lately, and we need a way to filter it down in a way that makes sense for us. While it’s not helpful to have people kiss our ass and tell us what we want to hear 24/7, it doesn’t do us any good either when the “advice” isn’t tailored to our needs or it’s delivered in a mean, condescending, or passive-aggressive way.
“If I’m going to open myself to you, then I need to know that I can trust you, and that you understand me, and that you genuinely want me to succeed, and — most of all — that you are capable of being compassionate with your honesty,” Gilbert wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine.
Amen to that!
People aren’t deserving of our trust just because they spout their opinion in the name of “brutal honestly” or because they can shout it louder or say it meaner. Not everyone is entitled to an opinion about our lives — even our so-called friends. It isn’t enough that someone be honest; to be trusted, a person also needs to be kind.
Because honesty is only the best policy when it’s also helpful and kind.