Honesty is a virtue. It isn't something that is easy to remember to do. Being honest is a concept more than an actual thing. I remember clearly the moment when I was walking with my grandmother in the parking lot of a Mall and she was explaining to me the difference between a white lie and a real lie. She told me a white lie is something we tell when we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and more importantly, when it wont do any harm. Harm. There is that nasty word again.
Humans breathe in the form of the white lie. Let's go ahead and give some examples I know you are all familiar with: "You don't look fat." "I love that color eyeshadow." "Your writing is strong..." "No, really... I really think he likes you!" "Of course she didn't mean it that way."
You know it. You do it. We all do. Honesty is a hard business. Brutal honesty can sting badly, in both directions. The receiver of the honest opinion is hurt and the giver of the opinion is wounded by the infliction of said hurt.
The truth is that white lies are necessary in the social world, but have no place in the world of teacher/student or writer/agent/publisher.
If we did not practice the art of the white lie in social settings, we would become social sociopaths. It is socially awkward to be brutally honest in social situations. Consider the woman you are just meeting on the arm of your husband's best friend. She is wearing a hideous lime green jump suit. Laugh about it in the car later... do not shake her hand and say "oh my, what a hideous green jump suit." If you ever become true friends later in your lives, you can mention it... carefully, and she will hopefully be in agreement by then. Maybe.
Recently I found a beta reader and critique partner for my book. We swapped and I got instantly sweaty. I read the first sentence and thought... Oh my, How will I do this? There was so much I wanted to tell her, things that didn't work, things that DID work. So I bit the bullet. I was brutally honest. And you know what? She was okay! Not only okay, but brave enough to tell me what she agreed with and what she would keep. And brave enough to throw some wonderful and honest critiques back my way.
As a teacher, it is my job to tell students the truth. The truth about society, the truth about their grades, their potential, their work.
As a writer it is my job to tell fellow writers the truth, and listen to it in return. It is also my job to be truthful with agents and/or editors. I will always be myself. I will always be honest.
BUT (and there is always a but, right... fat or not;) butt, get it?) The only problem, the only itsy bitsy problem with the concept that is honesty... is that it is relative. We have to always remember that even our truths can differ. What I think of as truth may be true to me, but not true to someone else, especially if it is about a critique. Now, an out and out lie is a different story and should ALWAYS be avoided. I have some stories about those... fodder for future postings.
Tomorrow: Recipe day!