I saw a show the other night highlighting the life of a famous man who had died. The words used to describe him were: petulant, impatient, brilliant. They said that he could be brutally rude to anyone (waitresses, cab drivers, fellow employees….) that didn’t live up to his standards.  When asked by a friend, why he acted this way, his explanation was that he demanded excellence in all areas of life, and that basically if someone was not, in his opinion, excellent, he felt justified in telling them his opinion of  their work; their life. They said that this man, while admittedly brilliant, was not kind. He had everything by worldly standards, and yet he looked unhappy and tense.

I read a quote, years ago by Rabbi Heschel; “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” I also remember not really understanding the power of this thought at the time. I was in my early 30’s, in graduate school (studying theology no less), but there was a high degree of competition, tension, and lack of cooperation present in the school and student body. Life seemed harsh; lots of sarcastic banter, a lot of talk that began with the words, “I need to be honest with you about….” (this always meant that someone was going to tell you something that they didn’t like about you, your behaviour…).

I wonder if the brilliant man was a happier man, would his version of honesty have changed? How many times have I had a harsh, critical thought about myself or someone else and the only reality, the only “truth” in it was that I was having a bad day. When I get myself into a better state of mind, the world, and everything in it,  looks better to me too.

“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true”. Robert Brault.

28 thoughts on “Honesty”

  1. My goodness, Mary, how timely for me to hear “I need to be honest with you about….” (this always meant that someone was going to tell you something that they didn’t like about you, your behaviour…)………
    I was in the process of writing a letter to an adult child in my family when your posting came in. It was over a very serious issue between us and this comment helped lighten my approach. Thank you.

    SandyP in Canada

  2. Oh Mary, Thank you for another wonderfuly insightful view of our world!
    Yes, the older I get the more I am aware of and appreciate kindness!!
    Two stories about kindness made powerful impressions on me. The first, heard on NPR, was in an interview of a Harvard University student who was fostering addicted babies as she carried a full college student schedule herself. She kept the babies with her 24 hours a day caring for them lovingly as well as meeting her student obligations. When asked why she assumed such a heavy burden, she replied first of all she didn’t see it as a burden at all, that she had been through a brutal foster experience herself, managed in spite of that to earn a full scholarship to Harvard, and she took in these babies because “she wanted to offer them kindness, so that in the future they would be able to recognize kindness for themselves” Stunning insight on her part!

    The second story involves Scott Simon’s loving eulogy for his cat. Since he was often out of town on interview assignments, he thanks the many cat sitters and visitors she had throughout her life by saying “she knew you by the kindness of your hands”! Wow!

    So, thank you for another reminder to offer knidness so others will recognize it and know us by that attribute.
    From Fran

    1. Fran, your answer to Mary’s post was a wonderful piece of sharing! You gave us two stories that we probably would never have heard or known of, and they built on, in a beautiful way, to Mary’s thoughts.

      So glad you posted today. Many thanks!

  3. Great post, Mary, as always. Every day I come away from your blog being reminded of something to which I need to give attention. You are like a “spotlight on life” for me sometimes. You make me a better person (which earns you gratitude from all the people in my life who have to put up with me)!

  4. Hi Mary –
    Yes, yes, yes. I saw the same show and had similar thoughts, but didn’t put them into words. The thing is, I have that very quote from Rabbi Heschel on my refrigerator. I no longer remember where I found it, but it resonates with me, especially when I see how cleverness, including rudeness (snarkiness), has lately permeated our society and is valued. Interestingly, here’s a quote from a different country and time that I also have on my fridge. It’s by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.” Does it really take the years of experience that comes with growing older for us to understand the value of kindness? Or have we forgotten to be the role models for the young?
    Thank you again, Mary, for a thoughtful post.
    Jan S

    1. Wow, I love that quote by Goethe, “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.”…simply wonderful, thank you Jan

  5. It’s me again.

    Today and going forward, I’ll strive to imbue my life with less honesty, and more kindness, Thank you for your powerful message.

    From Fran

  6. I think that man’s rude behavior towards others – says a lot more about him – than it does about those people he condemned as incompetents.. Who made him the almighty judge of “excellence” anyway?
    I am with the rabbi Mary – and it certainly calls more up in someone to be emotionally generous . Currently I am in a struggle with someone with whom I have been judgmental and harsh in my thinking and admittedly, my behavior. Recently I see that this is calling up for everything in me to let go of my need to be right – need for this person to change as I see fit – for me to accept her unconditionally with all of her frailties and foibles… and treat her with respect, compassion and ….. kindness……

  7. Yes, I saw the show also, Mary.
    I was pretty taken aback as to how he treated people also.
    There are many individuals in the world who seem to treat people with an air of overlording (what I call it). They want things their way and that is it and try to tell the employee they are overlording that they are actually trying to improve that person and the way they think and do things ….they believe that the employee will then be more successful and bring more business or success to “their” company. I have actually had people tell me this.
    I just so appreciate it (not) when they say not to take things so personally.
    Gives me the heevie jeebies. Met and have worked for too many of them.
    I feel sorry for the family of this person for their loss.

  8. Wanted to add a more positive note.
    The same show included a wonderful story about how the I pad has the capability to help autistic children to communicate. Pretty incredible and wonderful results.
    Wish I had a quote that states something about the ying/yang of life in this world!

  9. I have heard many hurtful things said in the name of “Honesty”. Kindness is definitely a better teaching tool. Love the stories and quotes Mary and the input here. Thank you all.

  10. Everyone’s remarks today have so uplifted me. I know I’ve shared this more than once, but those words from the nanny to the little May Mobley (in the Help) will just always resonate with me. Of all the traits the nanny valued as important, the first was kindness as she told the little girl over and over “you is kind, you is smart, you is important”. I think it is probably one of the most undervalued traits used when describing someone – anyone of prestige is “aggressive, a go-getter, tough!, bright, a genius even”, but kindness? One need never go to a school or university to be a kindness doctor. I know you have all inspired me to go out and be kind today. Thank you all.

  11. Have you ever had someone tell you they must be ‘brutally honest’? Well, duh, that says it all. Nothing has to be presented in a brutal way. Even a bitter medicine can be sweetened with a bit of sugar. The quote of Robert Brault is going right into my White Feather Farm Quotes Folder Mary!

  12. still reading and holding your posts to my heart. kindness; ah, for sure. seems things have gotten busier than usual for me, but still wake up for my coffee and my “mary blog” and all of us who join here on white feather farm.

    much caring to all

  13. Sounds like a poor justification for being a jerk to me. I think people do stuff like that to make themselves feel better for not trying to be a kind human being.

  14. A variation on a theme—
    I was told by someone, “I need to be authentic…” and then I was told how wrong I am.

    A comment regarding yesterday’s post….
    I have been watching Oprah’s Lifeclasses on TV and also the webcasts on the computer. As someone was talking about making changes (such as changes in how they ate), the person said to “lean into it.” In other words don’t try to make the complete change all at once, but just “lean into it.”

    1. I love that Mary! Just lean into it! For some reason jazz music comes to mind, musicians leaning into one another’s groove! – no ruled cadences, – merge into the flow – and see what may happen. Groovy!

      1. And lovely flock, if kindness is the thing with feathers as Myrna reminded us. let us sport our White Feathers high! Birds of a feather. . . stick (with kindness) together..

  15. Sometimes it is important to speak out against injustices against yourself and others, to speak your truth which requires being honest with the person inflicting harm on you or your own. Keeping quiet, in the interest of being kind can lead to years and years of setting aside what you may need to lead a fulfilling and authentic life.

  16. Years ago I had a very negative encounter with the person in the show, in connection with providing a professional service; and in that same phase of my life, had many acquaintances who had been his employees and had been belittled and bullied, despite being dedicated, bright, hardworking people.

    What stood out in my experience was this person’s nearly total unwillingness to come halfway and meet another being with some receptivity about what they might have to contribute, in both tangible and intangible ways. No openness at all to be surprised by someone else, to have an experience different than what was expected; a total need for control of the situation and how it unfolded, with no curiosity, no access to discovery or new learnings not originally on the agenda.

    If I had approached my life that way, I would have never developed the opportunities I’ve had to be useful and of service to others. I believe we all come in to this life to learn about our connection to everyone and everything; some of us find and learn those lessons well, many go at least some distance along the path to those discoveries, and others miss the path almost entirely. It’s hard, because we encounter the discomfort of change, and that’s not easy to accept. I have grave doubts about how much was learned in that sad short life, and wonder how many connections lay dormant, never discovered and opened, despite the positive parts of this mad genius’ legacy.

    Thanks so much for connecting many of us the way you do, Mary! Your legacy will be quite rich in the most substantial of ways, I am sure.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share this powerful story here Annie, and for your supportive words…both are very much appreciated.

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