This is the seventh post in a series about living the virtuous life like Benjamin Franklin. We’re taking his life and applying it to marriage and relationships.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
What comes to mind when you hear the word sincerity? Someone who is earnest and truthful. Authentic. The dictionary defines it as : “freedom from deceit, hypocrisy, or duplicity; honesty in intention or in communicating; earnestness.”
At the core of sincerity is honesty in conduct and communication. Honesty and integrity are markers of great men and women.
There are a few plagues on our society today. Habits and tendencies people have adopted that don’t build people up or treat others with care – gossip, sarcasm, and lying. These three can be especially damaging within marriage and families.
Gossip is everywhere. In fact, some magazines and television shows wouldn’t exist without it. In the world of the Internet and blogs, gossip is particularly rampant. The fact checks have been replaced by the opinion, thoughts and ideas of anyone interested in writing something down.
This places the onus on each of us to be diligent about where we find our information AND what we do with it.
Especially when the information we are given is private or personal in nature.
If a friend shares something personal with you, or something private, treat it as such. When you are privy to something about someone else, guard it as you would a prized possession.
My profession as a marriage and family therapist is built upon this idea, and it’s something I take extremely seriously. But this also extends beyond my clients. I seek to be a man to whom any private thought or concern can be shared knowing that it will never be divulged to others.
When it comes to marriage, we are faced with ample opportunities to share private information, sometimes for a laugh with others, but almost always at the expense of our spouse. Part of the elegance of marriage is the secretness of the things shared between you and your spouse.
When you are faced with the chance to share a piece of information about your spouse or someone else, here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
If you can answer yes to all three, then go ahead. If not? Keep your mouth shut.
One more thing, gossip does not have to be false to be gossip. Gossip can be true, yet still no one’s business.
But what if others press you to reveal something secret that you know?
I recommend the following as an excellent retort: Draw the information seeker close to you and whisper, “Can you keep a secret?” They will then answer, “Certainly!” At this point put your hand on their shoulder and say, “Well, so can I.” End of conversation.
I’ll admit – I’m a sarcastic person. A well-placed zinger can sometimes produce comedic gold. But it’s a tool that’s often hurtful, especially in marriage. I’m all for the “inside jokes” and playful banter between spouses, but sarcasm can create a rift between you if you’re not careful.
Sarcasm is often the refuge of the weak and is employed by people who are afraid to say what is really on their minds. According to Psychology Today:
Though they may not be aware of it, sarcasm is their means of indirectly expressing aggression toward others and insecurity about themselves. Wrapping their thoughts in a joke shields them from the vulnerability that comes with directly putting one’s opinions out there. Sarcastic people protect themselves by only letting the world see a superficial part of who they are. They’re very into impression management. ~ Steven Stosny, a Washington, D.C. – based therapist and anger specialist.
Sarcasm can hurt people’s feelings. It’s often a fine line between good natured ribbing and a really stinging comment. While you know you are only joking, others may not.
Sarcasm is also easy. Sarcasm can be used as a cop-out rather than a well-reasoned opinion. It is far easier to throw out a sarcastic remark than to make a thoughtful counterargument. It’s best to cut out the sarcasm in marriage and leave it only for the times when you both are engaging in the inside jokes and banter.
When it comes to lying, most people would say they do okay because they don’t blatantly make up false information. But it is the more delicate lying that is harder to master. Our looks, tone, the parts of a story we leave in and the parts we leave out, may still be being dishonest. I have heard someone say this many times, “No I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell them everything that happened.” Sorry, it’s still a lie.
Lying is easy, especially when telling the truth will bring upon us negative consequences. And lying is becoming more prevalent in society. According to a 2002 confidential survey of 12,000 high school students, 74% admitted cheating on an examination at least once in the past year.
If our kids see nothing wrong with lying, we must up our example of complete honesty. The small lies make it easier for the big ones so it is paramount that we be examples of truth in our words and actions.
But what about the “white lies” to preserve people’s feelings?
This is the age old question. What do you say when your wife asks you if a pair of pants make her look fat? How about if your husband gets a horrendous haircut and wants to know if you like it? Or worse yet, your partner wants to know if the sex was good for you, and it wasn’t?
Telling these lies present sticky judgment calls. The right answer varies from situation to situation. In general err on the side of honesty. Be honest to a fault. Sometimes it may get you in trouble, but generally it will win the respect of those involved.
The problem with telling white lies is that while they may flatter a person in the short term, they hurt the person in the long term. Take the example of the bad haircut. If everyone tells a man that it looks great, he will keep on getting the same horrendous haircut. Now for when your wife asks you “do these pants make me look fat.” Here’s a great response – “I don’t know, I’d have to see you without the pants on.” When said with a playful smile, who knows what may happen!