Facts are facts…
Some ‘facts’ are such that not everyone agrees, and that’s because they are not facts. Real facts don’t necessarily make sense outside a particular context, and if you distort the context, you might come to a conclusion that others disagree with. People regularly present their conclusions as being ‘facts’ even when they are not.
I tried to think of a random example, and eventually came up with three. How about….
(1) Fact: “I’ve never seen her smile or laugh.”
False conclusion: “She has no sense of humour.”
(2) Fact: “He lies more casually than most.”
False conclusion: “He never tells the truth.”
(3) Fact: “Most of the time I don’t understand, like or agree with his perspective.”
False conclusion: “He’s a liar / stupid / a bad person.”
I noticed some time ago in debates that opposing sides batter each other with ‘facts’. It’s confusing. If there are facts to prove something, why don’t these speak for themselves, presenting us with a single, clear-cut course that everyone automatically agrees on?
I imagine it’s a combination of errors, unproved assumptions, changing context and varying perspectives. Just because X is X and will always be X, you won’t necessarily agree that it means Y, and that Z is the only and best way of dealing with it. You may not even agree that A is a desirable outcome. There will also be characters and groups who only work for themselves; they are not averse to muddying the waters and making things difficult.
Anyway, last night I was trying to turn FACT into an acronym, and wrote these:
Friends are courteously truthful.
Fair and completely true.
Fixed and certain truth.
My favourite is the last one, but I was thinking about the first — ‘friends are courteously truthful’. Is that a fact, or am I offering a narrow view of what a friend can be?
The term ‘brutal honesty’ comes to mind in this context. Do you believe in brutal honesty? Does it work in instances when nothing else does? Do we all mean the same by it? Is it useful to express something in a harsh or punitive way, perhaps even when there’s nothing to be done about it any more? Or does ‘brutal honesty’ involve merely stating a disagreeable, bubble-bursting fact at a time someone could still make use of your advice, and without too much loss of face?
For example, in a situation I’ve made up here, there are certain things you might tell someone:
(1) “For goodness sake, Emma, you look like a pregnant whale.”
(2) “No, it doesn’t suit you. I know it’s the fashion, but it’s not a good fashion. I like you better in the old blue one, which I happen to know Richard likes as well. :-P”
(3) “Everybody said how dreadful you looked last night in that dress, and the guys you fancied were laughing at you.”
To me, the first would be brutal honesty that might save someone from a disastrous party, though it would still be awful and depressing. Courteous honesty would be the second, and the third would be pointless spite. It might have such an effect that your friend’s dress sense would drastically improve thereafter, but there are always better ways of intervening.
When it comes to defining what a friend is, we must be wary. The internet is full of advice such as ‘real friends don’t…’ but there are bad friends who are still friends. They might snap, growl, make mistakes or lie to you sometimes, but it would be wrong to suggest that everyone who has a tendency to behave this way isn’t a friend. Some may have meant well and had no idea you’d misunderstand them or respond so badly. Others who are sharp with you do care about you, and would have your back when the chips are down. Possibly they are on a personal journey and will mellow and improve with time… gradually you find your relationship improves. Then again, perhaps not; it could be that they don’t care or will never learn. You can’t make generalizations.
‘Brutal honesty’ could just be banter in some cases, genuinely lightening the moment and causing everyone to laugh and bond. Truthfulness isn’t always required, but when it is, it’s best delivered kindly and at the right moment… yes, with mocking laughter if that’s what works for your group, but never with spite or intent to cause pain.
‘Friends Are Courteously Truthful’ is largely true, I think, but it’s a complicated world and there are exceptions… so it’s not an outright fact.