Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell

One windy day in the 1970’s a woman walking home down a city street in New Bedford found hundreds of dollars blowing in the wind. The woman was in dire financial need, her husband hurt and out of work while she was staying home to take care of three young children. The windfall was more than enough to solve her current problems and seemed like a gift from above.

She could have taken the money and used it for groceries or the mortgage payment. But she didn’t. She took it to the police station and turned it in. Who would do that when she so desperately needed the money?

That woman was my mom, a woman dedicated to strength of character and faith.

Mom never let us win at board games, instead she forced us to play better in order to beat her. She never let us cheat the rules of a game or school or heaven forbid, the law. Reality wasn’t sugar-coated to save feelings.

Honesty - on Youtube

You could say I come by my honesty naturally or that mom beat it into me. I speak plainly and can’t hide the truth unless I’m playing poker.

This “gift” has made things really difficult for me at times.

Several years ago I was in a marriage that wasn’t working. We had lots of money coming in and a few people told me that I should start hiding cash just in case. Later, when I moved out, my ex closed all our bank accounts and left me penniless.

Well not, penniless, but I wasn’t headed for the Ritz. I had a part-time job and about $130 in cash that was in my wallet the day my bank card stopped working.

Some might think I made a huge mistake. Some people said, “I told you so.” A few thousand wouldn’t have been a big deal compared to what we earned and it would have been really welcome in those months I was destitute.

BUT… that was a relatively short period in my life. About ten months. And when I look back I feel good about what I did. I was legally entitled to that money and I could have taken some, but it felt wrong. And if I had taken it, my image of myself would have been changed forever. I chose ten months of discomfort over twenty years of shame.

I’m on the other side now and on the road to emotional and financial recovery.

My backwoodsy directness is unchanged and I can face my reflection without fear.


This week I was reminded that my folksy, plain-speaking ways catch some people off guard. Someone asked me for feedback on a novel and I sent it in two pieces. My email contained effusive praise and one minor suggestion for improvement.

What I got back in response was a worried, defensive message that assumed I was using praise to water down my criticism. The author saw only the criticism and couldn’t see that I really loved the work… until this person read my formal comments. And then, they realized that I meant what I said. Imagine that. I meant exactly what I said. I loved the work and there was one minor suggestion I thought could make it a breakout hit.

It seems in today’s world most people speak in hints. They think we need to let everyone win so they don’t feel bad, and that we shouldn’t tell someone when they’re doing something foolish. Conversely, when people speak to us we need to guess at what they mean, because they are afraid of offending us.

It drives me nuts.

I’m reminded of President Bush and all the heckling he endured. He spoke his mind on difficult topics in a way we could all understand and he was widely criticized for his candor. Personally I prefer someone who has the guts to tell me what he really means whether I agree with him or not. At least we could have an honest discussion. But lately I think that there are so many special interest groups that you can’t say anything without upsetting someone.


What’s a guy to do, never say anything?

Polished politicians (like Barack Obama) do a great job of walking the line of political correctness. But when they refuse to give a substantive answer to questions they send up warning flags for me. It’s obvious they are hiding something and it takes real work to figure out what that something is. I’d much rather hear straight talk than have to dig through a pile of hints for a real meaning. When I see a candidate dodging questions, I start thinking they don’t deserve my vote.

What about you?

Are you frustrated that people don’t tell it like it is?

Do you ever call them out?




4 Comments on “Don’t Ask And I Won’t Tell”

  1. harryipants says:

    I say what I think, and I think you’re an idiot.
    Naaaa, just kidding….
    Actually I think you’re a pretty smart guy, or I wouldn’t bother reading your blog.
    I’ve just started a writing critique group, invitation only, and only invited people who I think are capable of telling the truth.
    It was surprisingly difficult to find enough people who even MIGHT be able to tell it like it is, and who understand that those bruises they’re getting are not personal, but given by others who genuinely want to help.
    All this politically correct stuff sucks.
    As for actual politics, as I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll just say nothing.

  2. cindysamuel says:

    I am just like you CJ….I tell it like it is. I have occasionally thought that I can be honest to fault. I don’t think I am unkind ever, in criticism, but I do tend to warn people not to ask a question you can’t handle the answer to. I definitely admire and expect honesty.

    • cjwestkills says:

      Thanks CL.

      I think the key in giving criticism is to give it for the good of the recipient. If you’re criticizing for some other reason, you probably shouldn’t be.

  3. Lil Gluckstern says:

    What a good mom you have had, and she raised a very ethical young son. I don’t believe in political correctness, but I don’t believe in deliberately hurting people either. As you said, comments that are made for the speaker’s ego and not the listener is reprehensible. Life is tough enough without more conscious cruelty in it.

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