The other day, I had an "insert-foot-into-mouth" experience, something, sadly, that happens to me quite frequently because I'm opinionated and often speak without thinking. I was in a class and happened to join a conversation in which two people were comparing a book that I HATED to one of my favorite movies (and the comparison, by the way, was not even close).
When I made the mistake of saying, "Did you guys actually LIKE that book?" I found out that the woman's daughter had written it -- although she smoothed things over by saying, "Well, it's not for everyone."
I felt bad that I had inadvertently criticized this woman's daughter's writing. I'm a writer, and part of being a writer is reading and analyzing others' work, although I hate to hurt other writers' feelings since I know how hard it is to get published. But you know what bothered me even more? This woman is a prominent editor who has spent more than 20 years of her life writing and proofreading manuscripts. She has published books herself! She knows what good writing is -- and yet, her daughter's book, I'm sorry to say, was foolish, poorly-written and full of plot holes.
I am not trying to criticize this woman, nor am I trying to be more hard on her daughter. But this experience made me think once again about honesty and how blind we sometimes are. When our friends ask us how they look in their jeans, do we lie and tell them they look fantastic when maybe a bigger size or a different style would fit them better?
We're taught that little white lies are okay, and to an extent, they are. Being brutally honest about someone's weight, someone's singing voice or someone's writing can hurt them -- and it can cost you a relationship. But isn't puffing someone up with an inflated opinion of themselves, only to watch how much it hurts when they find out they're not as good as they thought, even worse?
One of the things I value about my parents is that they were ALWAYS honest about how we were doing. If I could have sung out more during a choir concert, my mom and dad let me hear about it. If I used too much repetition in my writing, my dad told me about it. I'll be straight up -- sometimes it wasn't what I wanted to hear. But I value it now because I know that when my parents DO pay me compliments, they're genuine, and it means I actually have talent in certain areas.
I guess what I'm saying is this: be honest with yourself, with your friends and with your family. If your child could use improvement in a certain area, tactfully tell her and find ways to help her improve! Tell your friend (nicely, of course) that she might want to do a bit of tweaking with her short story before she sends it off to Good Housekeeping. Don't sugarcoat things too much if you could help a family member reach his dreams by being a little more honest about how you really feel.
I'm not suggesting you throw tact out the window and unleash all the things you want to say, and I hope you don't think me arrogant and rude. I just know that I'd much rather receive a genuine compliment and know that I did well than embarrass myself because no one would tell me that, as my aunt puts it, "the emperor is buck naked."
The floodgates are now open, my friends. I'm willing to take all honest criticism from you -- and I promise, your friends and family will be glad you care enough about them to help them realize their dreams in an honest, sincere way.