People like me often find ourselves in uncomfortable positions. By ‘people like me’ I mean those who fall closer to the honesty end of the honesty/kindness spectrum. As a Christian, I think that both qualities are essential — not just important, essential. Speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) is something we all should strive for — and for the vast majority of us, we only get half of it right, half of the time. Either we focus on other people’s reaction so much that we fail to tell the truth, or we tick people off by just being honest for honesty’s sake.
People like me — who value truth highly, who want to be honest, who want to be understood, much more than we want a hug or a compliment — can come off as unsympathetic and unfeeling. But I am writing this to try to illustrate for those on the other end of the spectrum that people like me have feelings too. Your empathy and sensitivity lies on the surface, and you often seem to look at me with questioning eyes, as though you wonder how I could be so callous as to say that. I’m going to try to explain, but you must believe me when I say that I have no incident or individual in mind when I write this. I am speaking from a composite experience over my 60 years of existence. It’s the feelings I want to convey, not any specific situation.
Let’s just start by saying that it’s hard to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. For extroverts, it can be a revelation to realize just how draining it can be for an introvert to spend the whole day schmoozing with clients, and introverts wonder why that guy is stir-crazy if he has to be alone for a few hours. Likewise, this honesty/kindness divide deserves some notice.
So here’s the thing. I’m about to bare my soul, put my real feelings out there, and invite you to judge me and tell me that my feelings are not valid. I get that all the time, but this is important enough for me to stick my chin out again. I feel like I’m climbing out on a limb and handing you the saw.
A big part of my frustration lies in the constant feeling I have that everyone else’s feelings matter, but mine don’t because I appear insensitive. I am constantly being called on to tone it down, be the grownup, and think of ‘where others are at’ and ‘what they can handle’ — the assumption being that I’m doing something wrong if I make anyone uncomfortable. But my plea is for you to try to understand that I am just as uncomfortable in your world as you are in mine. I know that you break out in a sweat when there is disagreement in a discussion. I see you sinking into your seat, wishing someone would just end this… So I usually back off and don’t say all that I think should be said. But for all your empathy, I don’t think you ever notice how uncomfortable I am in your cozy space.
I am dying a little inside every time I have to nod and smile when I don’t fully agree. When I speak, you smile and look like you are listening and then nicely ‘agree’ with me by saying just the opposite. I feel manipulated. I think well enough of you to believe that you are smart enough to know that we don’t actually agree, but for some reason, you are uncomfortable saying that you see things differently. Instead, you prefer to put me in a spot where you have been ‘nice’ and that makes me argumentative if I notice that we’re not saying the same thing and try to have a discussion.
When tension is running high in a group and there are issues, you are the first to try to smooth things over with kind words, food, or a nice social activity meant to bring us together and smooth over the tension. I truly appreciate your concern and initiative. I really mean that. I believe that you are following the Golden Rule and treating me as you would like to be treated, and I appreciate all your good intentions — and it makes me feel bad that I can’t respond ‘the right way.’ I just can’t feel really loved without being listened to, understood, and taken seriously, so just being nice and putting this behind us does not work for me. All that allows me to do is settle into a relationship that will never be unpleasant, but will only be as close as our shallow understanding of each other. I feel held at a distance and that I am not worth the effort to actually listen and understand. Maybe this is a ‘love language’ problem, and we all need to learn to show our love in ways that are meaningful to others. I’m not sure why ‘niceness’ has become the only recognized standard of love and sensitivity.
Sometimes you simply confuse me. You try to make people feel better all the time — and it doesn’t seem to bother you if you have to bend the truth to do it. For example, you talk about how lazy you are to make a truly lazy person feel better, while you are probably one of the hardest working people I know. I see you think through something and make a good decision based on what you objectively believe is the best course of action — but as soon as there are tears, or outrage, or hurt silence, you back down. I look on wondering what you want me to do. Should I help you stick to your original resolve? Should I trust your new judgment and ignore what you said before? When I want to hold the line, I become the ‘bad cop.’
I wish you could understand my motives in places where I seem hard and inflexible. I wish you could understand my experience. I have gone through things myself. I know that escaping consequences only prolongs the problem. I know that hard truth is worth hearing because it brings deep comfort in the end. I know that healing a wound slightly, leaving a festering sore beneath the surface, only leads to complications that can be fatal. So when I want to lance the wound, my motivation is love, and I truly desire the best for that person. Yes, I can be too zealous — I need your help with my timing, tone of voice (sigh!), and priorities — but I want you to understand that sometimes I am not just being difficult and argumentative. At root, I have a deep desire to see lives change, relationships go deep, and people to be truly free.