When my kids were younger, especially teen-agers, I allowed and even encouraged them to use me as their go-to excuse. Whether it was turning down an invitation, avoiding dangerous activity, or simply taking a break from a friend, I was there to take the blame. “My mom won’t let me, my mom made plans, my mom will kill me if she finds out”. But by early adulthood, “my-mom” excuses don’t fly and it was time to handle those uncomfortable, undesirable, and anxiety-producing situations by themselves. It was then I gave my kids the advice I try to heed myself: Shoot with the truth. Don’t lie.
I’m a ‘knee-jerk yes’ person, quickly agreeing to ideas, outings and activities of all stripes. I’m also a homebody who prefers quiet evenings and comfy pants. In my younger days, this dichotomy along with limited funds, created awkward situations where I had accepted an invitation but when the time arrived, I didn’t want or couldn’t afford to attend. I found myself making excuses, telling white lies, or fabricating the truth. It made me cranky and disappointed in myself. I put an end to it.
Initially, telling the truth felt complicated because of my uncomfortableness in dealing with problematic situations or the potential negative reaction of the other party. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like to let people down. I thought telling a white lie or embellishing the truth would save people’s feelings and ease my conscience. And while I rarely got caught in my fabrications, I felt my credibility slipping away from myself. I had to remember the lies, and that was taxing and might lead to more lies. Too many complications and potential for drama. It was time to break the bad habit.
I worked at being discerning in accepting invitations and I would shoot with the truth if a conflict or needed change arose. I took a deep breath and I kept it simple: I’m strapped for cash and can’t afford an evening out, I’m sorry I agreed earlier to attend but I wouldn’t be good company today, or a similar statement of truth. And I reminded myself I was not on trial or on The Jerry Springer show. I didn’t have to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, nor did I have to over-share embarrassing myself or anyone else. The fewer words the better. If an apology needed to be made, I made it, hoped it would be accepted and moved on. Quickly, I found the truth was an easier and happier habit.
And over time I applied this honest directness to other uncomfortable and difficult situations. Whether it was giving feedback, turning down requests, or helping someone grieve, I wanted to be straightforward and plain-spoken. If I didn’t mean it, I didn’t say it – no glossing, no embellishing, no white lies. I learned to accept silence in conversation and not to fill it with meaningless words. This was especially hard for me. I’m chatty. But with practice, I improved. And I reminded myself that being truthful doesn’t equate to being blunt or harsh. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I want my words to be heard, to be remembered, and hopefully to be wise.