Honesty is for people we care about

We often agonize about whether or not to tell someone something. But honesty and its consequences are an expensive investment, and it’s rarely worth it unless you’re trying to build up the relationship.

In contrast, honesty for people we don’t really care about is usually just a misguided indulgence. It rarely serves any useful purpose, and is a source of social drama with little or no reward.

This is just one facet of a more general principle: “proportionate relationship.”

The extremes of social interaction are equally unhealthy: mature people don’t shut everyone out, and they don’t let everyone all the way in either. The most mature people find ways to have at least some degree of relationship with almost anyone, even their enemies — a critical skill in leaders particularly. It’s achieved by scaling our interaction with people to be proportionate with how much and what kind of a relationship we want with them. For instance, we all have friends that we adore but would never trust to, say, pick us up at the airport... so we don’t ask for that.

We do a lot of this on automatic, but we all tend to get befuddled with the extremes, and our decision making on tougher points seems to be polluted by a lot of “all or nothing” attitude about relationships.

What to do when we discover deplorable behaviour in otherwise valued allies? We adjust our interaction proportionate to how much and what kind of relationship we want with them. And we may not want any relationship with someone whose behaviour extends into racist bigotry. Or we might cautiously choose to have only a very restricted/specific relationship with that person, and shut them out otherwise.

This is a lesson about relationships I learned long ago from some mentors at Haven.ca, and I’ve found it extremely useful principle in life, probably the most lasting lesson I learned there.