If You Can't Say Something Nice...
One of the first hurdles I came up against when I started being radically honest is my society's obsession with "being nice". The idea that I should keep my thoughts inside my head unless they are positive and full of sunshine was deeply ingrained in me from my childhood, so much so that - even as a tiny child - I was led to believe that having 'bad thoughts' must mean I was a bad person. Forget not saying mean things, I shouldn't even be thinking unkind, ungrateful things, what on earth is wrong with me?!
You should be pleased for Tommy that he got an A when you got a D!
You should be glad that Daddy has a great new job, even if he is away a lot!
You should be grateful to even have shoes when others don't have any at all!
The problem with being made to feel that there is something wrong with me for not always thinking nice, kind, charitable things though, is that it creates a cycle of self-loathing. Tell a kid enough times that she's 'not nice' or 'mean' or 'ungrateful' and - sure as eggs is eggs - you'll raise a nasty, mean, ungrateful kid. Because that's what happens when you tell someone that 'who you are isn't right'. They end up hating themselves, and hating the world you tell them they don't fit into.
So what to say when I don't have something nice to say? Nothing at all? Well, that's certainly an option. I could keep my mouth shut and let all those negative thoughts swirl around in there, making me feel like an unworthy, mean-spirited asshole, or I could try something else. I could try seeing if expressing negativity about something can be done in an open and authentic manner. I'm not talking about 'sugar coating' (or using the time-honoured tradition of a 'shit sandwich'), I'm talking about expressing your negative thoughts in a spirit of radical honesty. Expressing what you think, along with your feelings about thinking it.
Tommy, I fucking resent you for getting an A when I got a D, and I imagine that you'll think I'm a shitbag for saying that, and I'm telling myself a story that I should be glad for you but I make myself jealous and like a petty little bitch.
What do you think Tommy's reaction to that would be? Better or worse than if I'd just punched him in the face like I'd wanted to? Certainly he'd have a reaction, and I'd have to deal whatever that was, and maybe it seems a whole lot safer just to keep my mouth shut and not have to deal with anything but that horrible, churning, red-hot feeling of hating him for no good reason at all for a while. But consider instead the possibility that telling Tommy how I feel makes me feel less tied up in knots inside, and more like someone who says what she thinks out loud and not behind someone's back, and owns her shit.
And so I'm not 8 years old any more, and no-one has grounded me for getting a D for a few years now, but I think you get the point. We all have Tommys in our lives, and we all fight with 'not-so-nice feelings' about others that may make us feel like worthless, unkind, meanies rather than the magnanimous supermen and women our mothers wanted us to be. We all want others to like us, but liking us for someone we don't feel we really are isn't really liking us at all. It's liking the "nice guy" we pretend to be, when inside we feel like a shitbag.