when i was a young adult and first learned how to speak my truth, i was a little bit reckless with it, a little bit clumsy. the impetus to please people was so strong in me that it was hard to be straightforward with my truth. as a result, i kind of just pushed it out.

years later, a teacher shared this with my class: "honesty without compassion is abuse." wow, did that land like a ton of bricks. a new awareness dawned on me: maybe truth was more than a blunt force instrument. perhaps there was a skill and an art to it, as well. with only a rudimentary understanding of honesty, i must confess that i'd been using it like a sledgehammer - devoid of style; no finesse.

martin luther king, jr. once said, "you have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlying contempt." what does that mean? i take it to mean that folks aren't likely to be moved, and perhaps won't even listen, if you don't deliver your truth with compassion. i'm not talking about what buddhists call 'idiot compassion.' speaking truth to power sometimes has to be forceful. it's not about appeasing with kindness those who oppress with cruelty. however, if there's a truth that you want to impart, you'd do well to consider your audience. ask yourself a question: for whom am i sharing this truth? honesty with compassion means speaking your truth in ways that make it more likely that others will take it in. if you want your truth to move someone or change a situation, you must consider the person receiving it.

why aren't folks persuaded when they can feel a person's underlying contempt? because they have no reason to trust the message when the messenger derides them. contempt is "a strong feeling of dislike or lack of respect for someone or something." a truth delivered in this spirit can be a form of violence. it may make the speaker feel better, but it does nothing for the recipient. perhaps more importantly, the message may be lost.

skilful & compassionate honesty means that you've taken the time to consider your audience, imagining the best way for your message to be received. you know what you want to say and why you want to say it. and you care enough about your message to deliver it in such a way that it's likely to be heard.

About the Author

deirdre mclaughlin (she/they/we) is a counsellor, sex educator, and phd student in clinical sexology. they live and work within the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the tmixʷ (Syilx Okanagan), snʕickstx tmxʷúlaʔxʷ (Sinixt), and ɁamakɁis (Ktunaxa) peoples, as well as many other diverse Indigenous persons, including the Métis.

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