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.
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?