We’re All Beholders, And It’s All Beautiful

In a group chat I’m in, someone asked, “Where have you found beauty in your day?” It was only eleven a.m., but I already had a list. After I posted it, I realized I’d missed some. This was a regular sort of day; nothing out-of-the-ordinary had happened aside from laundry, a task I’d been putting off for a week and a half or more and don’t particularly like.

This made me think of something that has often crossed my mind when people talk about finding joy in the everyday or appreciating the small moments or what-have-you. I almost feel guilty mentioning it, because it sounds like a brag, but I really don’t mean it that way. I do find it interesting, though, from a sociological and psychological standpoint: what does it say about me that finding beauty in the mundane has never been a challenge, other than that I’m lucky?

I remember a time, several years ago, when I was riding in the car with my husband on a summer day. On the sidewalk was a woman, smiling, holding a radio to her ear and bouncing to the music as she walked. I thought she looked cute and fun and happy, and seeing the delight on her face made me happy, too. I admired her.

My husband’s reaction? Scorn. Not at her happiness, not directly; he scoffed that she was holding a radio to her ear instead of buying a newer, nicer one with headphones. I was stunned, and offended for both of us. Here was someone I thought would understand the kind of simplicity and in-the-moment joy on this woman’s face…yet he didn’t even seem to notice how beautiful that moment was. What does that say about him?

I think that was the first time I really pondered how different perception can be, even with things that seem to be completely, unmistakably positive. It was very telling, for both of us.

Don’t get me wrong–I have bad days. I have days where everything sucks so hard that I’m sure it’ll never stop. And sometimes it doesn’t stop, to be honest. There are circumstances in my life right now that make me feel helpless and hopeless and defeated, that I can’t do anything more about than I already am. I’m under a great deal of stress and am not always cheerful. But a long, hot bubble bath still feels the same. My cats’ toes are still perfect. All the wonder that surrounds me every second of every day is still there, waiting, even when I’m too distracted to appreciate it. To me, that’s just one more thing to be thankful for.

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Honesty is Always the Best Policy (Except When it Isn’t)

Conventional wisdom tells us that we should be truthful, all the time, full disclosure, full stop–especially in relationships, romantic or otherwise.  Nothing good can come of lies (“white lies” notwithstanding), so it’s best to come clean about everything.  But I disagree.

Now, hear me out.  I’m absolutely in favor of straightforwardness and precise language.  I try to come as close as possible to saying what I mean in the most literal, denotative terms while still being tactful (and not saying what I don’t mean, which can sometimes be more difficult, though I recognize it afterwards and do my best to correct and explain myself).  I’m not big on hints, either giving or receiving, so I ask (and answer) seemingly obvious questions.  I’d rather be embarrassed for a few seconds than be completely wrong thereafter.

The trouble with full disclosure is, not all truth is created equal.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to put into words the difference that I’ve innately grasped for as long as I can remember–or, at least as long as I’ve been committed to being as honest and forthright as possible, which is still as long as I can remember, but probably started around junior high or so.  It’s a matter of destructive vs. constructive honesty.

What I mean by that is best explained by describing what goes on in my mind when I’m deciding whether to tell someone something.  I ask myself some–or all–of the following questions:

  • Is this something that will help or comfort this person?
  • Does this provide valuable information for future behavior or planning?
  • Will not telling them be more hurtful in the long run?

What it comes down to is determining, on a case-by-case basis, whether being honest can have any long-term positive effect.  This means that even a painful truth can be constructive, because someone who is fully informed is better equipped to make the decisions that are best for them.  A good example is when a cheating spouse decides to come clean.  In the short term, it may seem kinder to keep that truth quiet, but, ultimately, telling them is the more compassionate and ethical decision.

When trying to decide whether a truth is destructive, you really only need to ask one question:

  • Does this serve any purpose other than hurting them?

Telling someone something bad another person said about them falls into this category.  The fact that Joe thinks Bob is an idiot may be true, but it helps no one.  It doesn’t teach a lesson–it only makes Bob feel bad.  It’s best to keep that sort of truth to yourself.  Now, on the other hand, if Joe doesn’t like how Bob keeps interrupting him when he’s talking, but is too shy to speak up, that’s another story.  It passes the three-question constructive honesty test.  Telling Bob may hurt or embarrass him, but, if he wants to keep Joe as a friend, he’ll be more mindful of his behavior, and everyone will be happy.  Yay!

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating lying.  If someone asks you something outright, it’s best to tell them as tactfully–but clearly–as you can, even if the truth is potentially destructive.  Prevarication rarely does anyone any good.  But there’s also no need to tell someone absolutely every fact that comes to mind.  Keeping a destructive truth from someone isn’t dishonesty:  it’s kindness.  And couldn’t we all use a little more kindness in our lives?