I hear The Boy, in a very sanctimonious tone, tell his sister, “You should have done it this way…” and I can hear him drone on in his self-righteousness; while simultaneously, a low-pitched whine emanates from his sister, and gets louder and shriller in a direct correlation as his “guidance” increases. Soon there’s a screaming match and they both come running to me to air their grievances and right their wrongs. He is Right. She is Right. So one of them must be Wrong, as they both don their capes of Indignation.
This happens so often that I literally can’t even remember the content of this particular argument. But I do know this: It’s better to be kind than right. And just because it’s true, doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud.
I pull The Boy aside. I allow each child to be heard, but I know exactly what just transpired–I witnessed the entire thing. He maintains he was just trying to be helpful. He is rigid with his shoulds and rules and what’s right and proper with the world. He lives his life by the most efficient, most effective, most right way to live and act and breathe (I might have had something to do with this early on in his life. I’ve since reformed). He was just pointing out to his sister that she should have done things this way, for a better and proper outcome.
La Chica screeches that she wanted to do it her way, and it worked out in the end. She lives life by what feels right to her, what resonates. She assesses what each action and outcome is worth, and chooses what speaks to her current values at that moment. She just wants to be left alone and doesn’t want to be criticized.
I try to teach The Boy that yes, this time technically he is right. But it’s better to be kind than right. Her decisions on that issue don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. He needs to pick his battles, and unless safety or something else wildly important is at stake, let her do things her own way. Be kind to her, please. There’s value in not uttering every thought out loud, even if you’re right. And there’s even greater value in being kind and gracious.
The Boy says, “I was just saying. I was just being honest. It’s the truth.” And this is where I have to point out that he’s learned this through generations of this dynamic in my Asian family. My parents are masters of this passive-aggressive criticism. “I’m not being mean, you have indeed gained weight. It’s a fact.” or “Your daughter’s not as cute as she gets older. I’m just saying.”
People these days revel in what they proudly declare to be “brutal honesty,” when Brene Brown, PhD, rightly points out this is merely “brutal bullshit.” This goes back to what we were taught as kids–if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. Really, what’s the advantage in pointing out “a truth” if it potentially makes someone feel bad, or if it really doesn’t make a difference in the end, or if it’s just not kind?
As I was writing this, a newsletter from Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center pops in my Inbox. And as life so oftentimes comes full circle at just the right time, I read this passage from a Dharma talk by Thay Phap An, a senior monk in the Plum Village tradition:
Thay said, “What you spoke was not the truth. Truth is something that has the capacity to reconcile, to give people hope, to give people happiness. That is truth! When you speak and it causes damage, even though it may be correct, it is not truth.”
The truth should bring us together. Not separate us. Ain’t that the truth?