Be honest, be yourself

Rachel over at Journeys with Autism is doing a very detailed critique of the Empathy Quotient test, a series of questions often used to help diagnose people with autism and Asperger’s. I suggest you read the whole thing if you’re interested in issues related to autism, because while I’m sure it’s a useful diagnostic tool, it rests on a lot of assumptions about a lack of empathy from auties that are quite false.

That’s not why I’m writing this post though. A comment on the third section of the critique caught my attention–how we are constantly told to ‘be ourselves’ and that ‘honesty is the best policy’, yet when you actually try to follow that advice it always turns out badly. Heck, practically every children’s book, TV show and movie has a moral about being yourself and things working out hunky-dory in it somewhere.

Anyone who believes that is in for a bad ride.

As far as being yourself goes, that’s good advice. Trying to police yourself to fit into a different mold is tiring–more importantly, it probably still won’t work. So the effort that goes into it isn’t really worth it. Plus, it’s also a crucial step towards having a healthy relationship with yourself. But the idea that this will magically lead you to someone who will accept you, and our culture constantly tells us, is a recipe for being let down. Relationships take work, and we all have to be willing to make compromises to accommodate others. It also tends to take active effort to find people who are willing to take you more or less as you are. And we may find that there are aspects of ourselves that we don’t like and it is alright to make an effort to change those things (especially if they’re interfering with your life, socially or otherwise).

Being honest is trickier. There are many socially understood areas where it is expected that we will be less than completely honest. A personal pet peeve of mine is the social protocol of opening up a conversation with some variation on the phrase, “how are you?” 99% of the time, the person doesn’t actually want an answer! But sometimes, the person on the receiving end doesn’t understand that, or worse, has something they want/need to talk about and are looking for an opening to talk about it. To confuse things even more, occasionally the person asking actually DOES want to know how things are, and in that situation the habitual ‘fine’ that I usually use impedes, rather than facilitates, communication. Which could be avoided if people were actually as honest as they profess they want. Honesty is the best policy, but it’s not a policy that most of the world has adopted–the age-old, “do these pants make my butt look big?” comes to mind here.

People in general tend to be attracted to easy answers, some more than others, and the idea that these two pieces of advice will lead to everything working out fine is one that most of us want to believe in. The unhappy truth is that rarely is anything that easy, and the harder you hold onto these formulaic beliefs, the worse you’ll feel when reality sinks in.

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