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Friday, March 24, 2006

Speaking the Truth

"I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more, as I grow older." Michel de Montaigne, French essayist (1533-1592)

While reading the paper during lunch yesterday, I stumbled across the quote above. I nodded as I read it because I can certainly identify with de Montaigne. Some people know me as a soft spoken, mild-mannered, even-keeled, willing to help others, kind of guy. Others have known me to be a bit snobbish. Perhaps it's because to varying degrees in my life, I've failed to successfully walk the fine line between "speaking the truth in love" and just speaking the truth without regard for the other person.

Speaking the truth in love is my aim, but most of my life I've erred on the side of mushiness, which turned me into a people-pleaser. Other times, when I'm at my wits end, I speak the truth out of frustration and it comes across as arrogant. Or maybe it is arrogant. I don't know. When I suspect that my tone is too harsh, I try to dial it back a little because I think we're slowly losing the art of tact. Maybe it's the advent of instant communication that just makes it look or feel like we're losing the art, or maybe I just notice it more since I'm getting older, but I don't think so.

That's not to say that certain instances don't call for boldness—even bordering on the edge of brashness. Sometimes evil needs to be dealt with in such a fashion. But generally, tact wins the day. Doing so, however, without a bunch of qualifiers is difficult. I prefer to listen to and read the writings of people who tell me what they think, without qualifiers, modifiers, or apologies and let me decide if I agree or not. These are the people who challenge my presuppositions, my comfort, and my intellectual laziness that we're all prone to. But even those people come across as being too harsh at times.

de Montaigne seemed to be addressing the concept of courage in the quote above, but maybe he dared to speak the truth "a little more" as he got older as opposed to a lot more or continually because he saw the wisdom and compassion in being tactful—maybe to the point of silence when silence was appropriate.


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