Thursday, July 31, 2008

Truth and Lies Before Dying

If you had only months to live, what would you say to the people you care about?

Here's the advice we hear a lot: Say what's in your heart. Tell the truth. If you have any old grudges or resentments, now is the time to clear them up. Don't leave anything unsaid.

I disagree.

If I said everything that was in my heart, if I told my family and friends the whole unvarnished truth about everything, if I resurrected old resentments just to clear my own slate, I'd leave behind some hurt, sad, offended people. I think all of us would.

We live a life of white lies and guarded thoughts. You tell your wife she looks great after her pregnancy even though she looks like a blimp. You tell your husband the sex was great even though you were less than satisfied. You tell your kids their artwork is fantastic even though it looks like chicken scratch. You tell your friend her muffins are delicious when they taste like cardboard. You tell your employee he's doing a good job, even as you're looking for a way to fire him. You tell the gas station attendant to have a nice day when you really don't care whether he does or not.

The fact is, we can't always tell the truth because some truths just shouldn't be told. There's no point in saying something that's only going to hurt somebody and add no value to anybody's life. Constructive criticism, yes. If your friend thinks her muffins are so great on your say-so that she's planning to invest her family's life savings on a muffin baking business, then you should probably tell her the truth about her tasteless muffins. Otherwise, you should say what's necessary to show her how much you appreciate her efforts.

Bringing up old grudges and resentments is a tricky one. It depends on the situation, but if opening old wounds is only going to make people feel worse, not better in the long run, then I see no reason to spend my valuable time at the end of my life making people feel terrible about themselves or me.

I think we should say what's in our hearts to the people we care about if what we have to say will give them peace, help them feel our love, and let them know how much they mean to us. The nasty stuff, we can take to our graves with us.

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