The Art of Answering

86819347ec427d67115f3e7979ef08a2A lot of people have blogged about Amanda Palmer’s amazing and inspiring TED talk. I’m very late joining in, but it really is worth viewing. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here.

There were several potential blog posts that came to me in light of Amanda’s speech, but the one I wish to address now is this question:

Why can’t we all speak the truth?

It’s a tough line to draw. As I wrote that, I found myself thinking of exceptions to the rule. It’d have to exclude surprises. What about lying to protect others? What about sarcasm? I’m a huge fan of sarcasm. Except now you’re all thinking I’m being sarcastic (except I’m not, because I would have used italics. Obviously). I refuse to see the demise of sarcasm, if nothing else, what would David Mitchell do for a job? So, let’s ignore that for a moment.

Perhaps ‘truth’ is the wrong word. I’m talking about saying what we mean. No double meaning, no reading between the lines, no ulterior motives, no hinting, no obscure unwritten etiquette. Why can’t there be politeness in the naked truth?

What I’m suggesting is simple.

Ask. Answer.

When people don’t ask a direct question, I theorise it is because they are not willing to hear all possible answers. Admittedly when I ask, ‘would you like me to do the dishes’, I’m hoping the answer will be ‘no, it’s fine, I’ll do them’ but I’m well aware and willing to accept the answer of ‘yes, that would be great’.

When Amanda gives her music, it is honest and without obligation. She asks the question of ‘donation’ and lets her crowd reciprocate with their answer. Some say ‘yes’ and sometimes they say ‘no’.

When people hint, ‘Wow, that’s lovely, it’s gorgeous, I reckon that would look lovely in my house, you are so lucky to have it, I’ve always wanted one of those…’ and you ignore the hinting because it is irritating, and you don’t want to give it to them because they’re hinting and it’s irritating and you ignore hinting. It’s as irritating as repeating yourself.

Why can’t they ask ‘can I have that’? Because then you can say ‘no’ and it’s not irritating and they know exactly where you stand. I assume some would consider it rude to ask, which is probably how hinting developed in the first place. Rude, maybe – less irritating, definitely.

e22ab3fde56ebac320e6347e070917adA young man asks his mother if she’d like anything for Mothers’ Day. She says ‘No’ she has all she needs. On Mothers’ Day she asks why he didn’t get her anything.
‘But you told me not to-‘
‘Well I thought you’d at least get me a card!’
Confusing? Yes.

‘Can I bring something to dinner on Saturday?’
The host replies, ‘no’.
But is it ‘no, we have everything in hand and anything else you bring will be unnecessary’
or is it ‘no, but I expect at least two of my guests to bring a random bottle of wine’?
Or, they could just say ‘No, just bring yourselves’ or say ‘Yes, please bring a bottle’!

Sometimes though, you do have to toughen up. A friend and I were laughing about another friend’s idiosyncrasies, (I hasten to add, this wasn’t in a malicious way) and I kind-of jokingly ask, ‘What do you say about me when I’m not here?’
‘Nothing actually.’ she says, but then thinks about this a moment, ‘Probably our disbelief that someone so finicky can make such a mess!’

She laughed. I laughed. Not malicious. Just the truth.

Panged a bit though. But you cannot ask and then be offended when you get an answer. It was one of those instances where what you know and what you feel don’t quite mesh. On the up side, it’s made me more conscious of my messiness.

So, that brings me to ask, what if you’re not willing to hear the answer?

Don’t ask the question.


5 thoughts on “The Art of Answering

  1. I would favorite this if I could. I have been on a tear lately re this same issue. I have even been on an unofficial quest for one straightforward honest answer a week. Doesn’t happen. Why why why? And the flip side is that people who can’t GIVE a straightforward, honest answer also can’t BELIEVE one when they hear it.

    • I find it so exhaustingly frustrating! I did go to a dinner party many years ago, and I rang the hostess and she told me not to bring anything and when I got there clearly ‘something’ was expected. Maybe I take things far too literally!
      People CAN speak the truth an not be rude or insulting about it. Yes?

      • Yes! I strongly believe in accountability. If they say don’t bring anything, and you respect their request, then you have done nothing wrong. If they meant something other than what they said, they should have said so. Honoring their words is a sign of respect. No means no!

  2. I guess some people aren’t brave enough to speak the truth, either. There have been many occasions when I would have loved to stand on the Soapbox of Truth with regard to the behaviour of certain people in my life, but my nerve failed me. Politeness? Maybe. Terror, is more likely. In an ideal world, I’d love to see things work the way you describe them here, but I think we’re a long way off that vision of a blunt, straightforward Utopia. 🙂

    • What you’re speaking about here is a little darker and deeper than the examples I offered in my post and certainly, the more you think about the more complex it seems! I laid in bed last night thinking of exceptions or circumstances where the truth would be extremely difficult. As a general rule though, I’m a big supporter of saying-what-you-mean. Here’s to straightforward Utopia! 😀

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