Once upon a time, I worked at a cocktail lounge in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. As I was sitting at the bar one day, my coworker sat down next to me. The bartender looked and him and calmly said, "You have a huge booger hanging out of your nose. It's disgusting. Go look in the mirror." He left to do that, and I was mortified. The bartender saw the look of horror on my face and asked me what was wrong. "That was so...so...mean!" I sputtered.
"Mean?" she asked. "What was mean?"
"The way you just came out and said that! Why would you say it like that?"
She looked puzzled. "You think that was mean? Just because I was told him about something that he didn't know, something gross that other people could see?"
"Would it have been better to just say nothing and let the kid walk around with a huge booger dangling out?"
I was silent.
"Wait a minute..." she continued. "You had to see it too. Why didn't you say anything? Were you just going to let him walk around like that?"
"Uh..." I thought hard about it. Yes, I thought. Yes, I would have said nothing, sparing him momentary embarrassment and leaving him in blissful ignorance (at least until he happened to look in a mirror. Or until it fell out.)
"You weren't going to say anything! I can't believe it. And I'm the mean one here? You are the one who is a terrible person. Letting people walk around with boogers and stuff between their teeth, people who are supposed to be your friends..."
"Hold on," I interrupted. "I'm not a bad person. I'm a kindhearted person. I don't like embarrassing people or hurting their feelings."
"So it's better to let people have things visibly wrong with them and not tell them? You suck, you really do. And now I have no trust in you. For all I know, I have something hanging out of my nose right now, and would you tell me if I did? No, you wouldn't. Because you suck." She flounced away, presumably headed off for a nostril check.
I've always been this way. It kills me to give honest criticism to people, as well-meaning as it may be. I hate the thought of hurting people's feelings and will do anything to avoid conflict-so much so that I sometimes sacrifice complete honesty in order to promote peace. Not that I'm a liar; I just won't say what's really on my mind if I know that it will ruffle feathers.
Oddly enough, the only time that I feel free to completely spill my guts is when I'm on the verge of sleep. Perhaps my filters get as exhausted as the rest of me, and turn off before bed. Or maybe the barrier between my conscious and subconscious mind disintegrates right as I am about to fall asleep. Whatever the reason, if you want 100% unadulterated feedback from me, ask me a question when I am tired. I will tell you more truth than you ever wanted to know. I'll let you in on my deepest, darkest secrets. I will tell you about every single thing that you have ever done to annoy or disgust me. I can understand why sleep deprivation is a powerful tool in breaking the silence of prisoners.
I have heard it said that we are only our true selves when we are in a state of relaxation. Tension is who we are trying to be; relaxation is who we are. This certainly seems to be true in my case. And I wonder if this is the same for everyone. Do you feel like you are more likely to be totally honest when you are exhausted?