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02 February 2009 @ 12:59 pm
Brutal Honesty & Discouragement Parenting  
[Christina Rossetti's] first volume of verses was issued by her grandfather Polidori unknown to her - printed by his own labor when she was 17 and presented to her. What a surprise it must have been to this gentle girl to have one of her own books placed in her hands! There seems to have been an almost holy love in this proud man's heart for his granddaughter. His love was blind, or near-sighted at least, as love it apt to be (and I am glad!), for some of the poems in this little volume are sorry stuff.
- Elbert Hubbard II, Little Journeys Vol. II: Famous Women © 1928

Christopher Titus: Hey, Dad, I got a B on my report card!
Ken Titus (Anti-Dad): But it's not an A, is it, son!

Christopher Titus: Hey, Dad, I graduated high school.
Ken Titus (Anti-Dad): Graduated high school, huh? Well you didn't come close to Valedictorian, didya, loser?

Christopher Titus: Hey, Dad, I got my first job.
Ken Titus (Anti-Dad): First job, huh? Well you ain't manager yet, are ya, fry boy?

Christopher Titus: Hey, Dad, guess what, I finally made manager.
Ken Titus (Anti-Dad): Manager, huh? Well, a real man would own his own business.

Christopher Titus: Hey, Dad, guess what? A couple of years ago, I started my own business. It's called Deranged Entertainment. We produce shows for national television and I made more money per week last year than you made all fucking year. What do you think about that, HUH?
Ken Titus (Anti-Dad): I think without me pushing you, Boy, you never would've made it. ... And that shit got canceled, didn't it?

Michael (loopback) increasingly believes that there is no such thing as brutal honesty, only being honest and being mean.

My mom was a bit more subtle than Christopher Titus' Anti-Dad.

She always told me this story about how she wore a tiara to a school dance and all of the kids made fun of her and she never forgave her mother for letting her leave the house wearing that tiara. That tiara was her excuse for criticizing my writing, my clothes, my hair, my skin, my makeup, my lack of makeup, my ability to sing when I got the understudy position for the lead role in the 5th grade play. There was nothing I could do after I was 5 or 6 to earn her praise except in the form of nostalgia for my precocious and surprisingly intelligent toddler years, or as a back-handed compliment like "I loved the way your hair looked yesterday."

I was thinking about all of her lectures on the importance of constructive criticism when I broke down and cried a few times through my childhood and teenage years, asking her why she never had anything nice to say about anything I did. I remember resenting my Aunt Lori for always telling me I should be nicer to my mom once I left the house because my mom really did love me and said nice things about me, and all I could think was OK, why doesn't she say them to me?

I was thinking about the tiara.

And it struck me.

I bet she looked beautiful in that tiara.
Douglaschiaspod on February 2nd, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
there is no such thing as brutal honesty, only being honest and being mean.

Elaborate, please.
Kburgunder on February 2nd, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
My understanding of it is that honesty isn't actually brutal (though I'm sure plenty a person can give themselves permission to feel offended or hurt by an honest opinion), and if someone is trying to excuse their meanness by way of brutal honesty, their honesty, their core motivation, is in question.

I think it's about motivation and intention - are you trying to be honest or are you trying to be mean? Honesty is just honesty. The value judgment of "brutal" is in question, because, perhaps, honesty is itself a tool of compassion, though sometimes it comes in the form of a disguised blessing.

I could be way off. Hopefully Michael will drop in and share his thoughts.
(Deleted comment)
Douglaschiaspod on February 2nd, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
What about situations where someone just doesn't think about how he is delivering the honesty? Those situations where someone just doesn't think about how he is saying something.

It's as equally honest to say "Jerry is a complete incompetent and if he works on that project he'll do such a pisspoor job that you'll have to put someone who actually know what he's doing on it to do just as much if not more work"


"I'm afraid Jerry isn't the right fit for this project, and lacks the skillset to complete it in time; it would take an equal if not greater amount of time to ramp him up and provide the necessary oversight to complete the tasks."

Thing is, I could see someone saying the first and not mean to deliberately inflict pain; instead, it'd just be a sign of an endemic failure to consider the many ways in which something could be phrased.
tenshiemi on February 3rd, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)
The first sentence doesn't strike me as honesty... Phrases like "completely incompetent" and "pisspoor" are vague and judgmental. "Isn't the right fit" and "lacks the skillset" etc... are still vague but a little more measurable (e.g. you could make a list of skills needed and mark off what he was missing). Honesty should either be objective and specific or should involve phrases "I" statements + reasoning, otherwise you're just being a dick :)
Angerieangerie on February 2nd, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)

Being someone who flew the banner of ''honesty! honesty! honesty!'' brought me the opportunity to understand what is and is not actually honesty.

I think you're dead-on about meanness being fundamentally dishonest. It's a difficult caveat, because it's so easy to lie inside when you think of another person. The first thoughts that come to mind might honestly be in your head, but that doesn't make them honest. You have to be a conscious, active thinker in order to maintain a level of honesty with yourself. And if you don't do that, you can never be fundamentally honest with anyone else.

It's part of why there are only about four or five people what they think about something. I typically walk around the subject until I think I know the answer - if they answered directly, it would have been a lie, but if they're not directly thinking about it, they have a better chance of telling the truth.

I'm frustrated. We should have been discussing this instead of watching Contact. I could have done that later...
Angerie: grr.angerie on February 2nd, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
That should have said...
There are only a few people who I will ask directly what they think.
Douglaschiaspod on February 2nd, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
And touching on the Titus example ... I'm right there with you. I grew up being constantly asked such questions as "why can't you be as good at X as So-n-so?", completely ignoring the fact that I was better at Y, Z, foo, and bar than So-n-so. And an A wasn't satisfactory if it were possible to get an A+. And taking second in a national competition earned the response of "how much better was the student who took first?" In undergrad, I got almost weekly phone calls reminding me that if I slipped below a 3.0 I'd lose my scholarships and have to go to the local-to-my-parents university ... which would have made sense had my GPA ever slipped below a 3.9.

And, of course, once I found my niche in Russian and was the top of my class, the comparisons had to stop, right? Sure - they shifted to "well, now that there's no Soviet Union there's going to be a lot more native speakers competing for those jobs, isn't there?"

I guess what I'm saying is that you're not alone in the weird passive-aggressive "drive to better yourself" that some parents put their kids through. And it's wonderful that at the end of all that you can be a better angel and say "I bet she looked beautiful in that tiara."
Kburgunder on February 2nd, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
I grew up being constantly asked such questions as "why can't you be as good at X as So-n-so?", completely ignoring the fact that I was better at Y, Z, foo, and bar than So-n-so.

This touches on why Atlas Shrugged is such a Big Deal™ to me to this day. I was raised with this weird duality of nothing-was-ever-good-enough and hide-what-you're-good-at-it-so-you-don't-make-other-people-feel-bad (i.e. "I got a 4.0 in Spanish!" "Kim, stop being a snob. Your brother got a 4.0 in Music Theory and he doesn't rub it in your face. Why do you want to make him feel bad about his poor grades in foreign languages?")

When Rand told me I didn't have to apologize for being good at something, that was a really incredible day for me, because that truth was always right below the surface for me - my internal barometer of subjective truth indicated it but nobody had given me permission to really believe I was on to something.

you can be a better angel

It is really sweet of you to say this, but I don't think it's about me. I didn't feel any particularly benevolent feeling toward my mom when it struck me - rather, I saw pictures of her from that age range and I sincerely bet she looked fantastic in that tiara. She was just a decade ahead of the glam/glitter movement. It just made me sad that she didn't have the chutzpah to say "I look awesome anyway!"

I'm lucky in that I developed that thick skin around other's disdain and disapproval when I was really young, maybe 11 or 12. You can see it in my yearbooks - for years it was "have a nice summer!" and then one year there are all of these messages of things like "i love your don't-give-a-shit attitude" and comments about being happy-go-lucky. In my subjective hindsight, it was mostly the cruelty of my peers that allowed me to develop that "Eh, whatever, I like it, I decide what I like, even if it's Skid Row and Neil Diamond, nyah." attitude, but I wonder if there is some small merit to my mom's constant badgering in my path to unconcern.

Caveat: I'm still extremely concerned about what people I deeply love think about me. But if someone I don't know or like is passing judgment on me, I have just an absolute disconnect when it comes to internalizing their opinion. The best I've got is a snarky "so noted". ;>
Douglaschiaspod on February 2nd, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
So noted.

What, too soon?

Kburgunder on February 2nd, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
It's a good thing you're cute ;>
marc17marc17 on February 3rd, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
Reminds me somewhat of my dad. I got fairly good grades as I graduated high school with honors and all, but only once was I told "good job" before I was told "do better next time" and was always afraid to show him my report card. What I got was lots of "You'll do as I say because the time you can do what you want in college" yet once I got to college the speech because "the time when you could do what you want was in high school, now that you're in college, you need to do as I say to succeed. Of course, one quote from my father was "You can't get into college with just A's and B's. You might as well join the army right now, ...if they'll take you."

Parent's always scar their children. If you mom's mother hadn't have let wear that tiara, she'd be screaming about how she didn't get to wear that tiara to this day.