Choosing Between Nice and Honest (And Choosing Neither)


Last night Rich and I were sitting on the couch reading through comments and messages left on Facebook after we announced our recent marriage and he asked me, “Do you think social media has made situations like ours more difficult?”

And honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that.

In some ways, it’s far more difficult. Those who are angry have the ability to spew anger far more easily and quickly than ever before, with the added benefit that they don’t have to say these things to our face. We can show our disapproval of people who have hurt us by unfriending, even if we weren’t really friends with them in the first place. With little effort, we can bring shame and condemnation on people who are in the wrong.

But there are also ways that it’s better. You can find support from unlikely sources, words that can buoy you in the midst of pain. You can more easily and discretely connect with people who have been through circumstances similar to your own. I have had friendships rekindle because they read a status update or tweet that made them remember friendship past.

So it’s a mixed bag.

But it’s far more simple for me to remember only the ways that web connectedness has hurt than it is to remember the ways that it heals. And because of that, it’s easy for me to want to hide my true feelings in my writing.

I’ve written before that I’m a little bit wary of the idea of writing nakedly. I don’t think that everything that happens gets to be broadcast for the wide world. There are stories from the last seven months that will never show up anywhere in public. I am completely at ease with this choice.

But I said then that I would never be ashamed in my writing, and that is not been the case lately. I have started to write honest reactions to some of the events that have happened, and have stopped, worried that I might be bringing more condemnation down on me, more condemnation down on Rich. I write and then edit out everything that has any bite, anything that could be turned back around on my own situation. I’ve been writing apologetically, timidly.

I have struggled in the past with determining what stories are mine and what stories belong to others, but that has intensified in the past months. Now, in addition to that, I feel torn between two seemingly beneficial, yet contradictory pieces of advice. There’s the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” And then there’s Anne Lamott who says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


I was speaking with a friend about this last week when she gently asked what I was trying to do with my writing now. She texted, “Honesty and niceness are tough things to choose between, particularly in a situation like yours. But at some point, a decision to be nice or be honest turns into a life of being nice or being honest, and while I’d hate to see you lose one or the other, I think that choosing the one can make you lose friends…choosing the other can make you lose you.”

Her words have been playing over in my mind. I want to write kindly and honestly, but I feel like I’ve been doing neither. I have anger and hurt that I’m not addressing because I want to be nice, but of course that spills into my writing, so I’m not all that nice. But my desire to be nice, to edit out the really mean parts of what I want to say, leaves me being less that honest with you, and ultimately with me.

Am I writing just for the sake of getting words out? Or am I trying to actually say something that matters to me? Am I going to tiptoe around my story, or am I going to tell it, even if it makes people angry? Am I going to focus only on the negative possibilities of living a more connected life or am I going to recognize that there is life to be gained by being honest, that there is freedom to be found in the truth?

I want to get back to writing without shame. I want to own all of my story, not just the parts that portray the correct amount of contrition or humility. I want to tell the angry parts, the happy parts, the grieving parts. Some of those parts might not seem nice, but they’ll be honest. And I think as I grow in one area, I will see growth in the other as well. I may not be able to completely find a balance between nice and honest, but I can try to shed the coat of shame that I’ve put on.

11 thoughts on “Choosing Between Nice and Honest (And Choosing Neither)

  1. I wish you luck with this. I, too, carry a lot of anger, hurt, frustration and, especially, shame. My situation is not totally like yours. My family was able to work thru some of the issues and try to rebuild. However, there are a lot of things that led up to the ‘troubles’ that have not been dealt with. Most of that is because of the shame I carry for my part in all of it. And, I, too, have debated about how much of my story to share. I don’t want to cause any more grief. But, sometimes I don’t feel that I can carry it all myself. So, I wish you well and look forward to seeing how you navigate this.

  2. Tell your story even if it makes them angry, even if they unfriend you. Take off that coat of shame. You are not your morality or your decisions or experiences. Your story is just that-YOUR story. And its broken, and messy and tangled just like all of ours, except you have the guts to live it in front of an audience who can at times be unforgiving. So, at the end of the day, if given a choice, I’d follow Anne Lamott’s sage advice and tell it like it is.

  3. I’m guessing there are those who will look at the totality of what you’ve written and shared through your writing and label you as misguided or naive. Maybe even hypocritical. But I hope you don’t listen to those people. I hope you are living and learning and understanding that often living through hard things makes you wiser, and that just because something was wrong for you doesn’t make that thing wrong for everyone. Mostly I hope you understand that are lovely and valued. That you are enough. And that you are worth fighting for.

  4. I can well understand the predicament of writing in balance. I hope that you find yourself shedding that coat of shame sooner rather than later.

    One small tip that has sometimes worked for me: writing out all the angst, anger, etc, then losing it all in a wordpress glitch (or similar) and having to start over has sometimes helped me tune in on the better part of the story, the part that needs to be shared. And usually it helps me finesse how to tell that part.

    Love you, friend. And congratulations on your Pi day wedding 🙂

  5. I struggle with this as a child who grew up in a situation very similar to the one you are living and writing through now. What is my story to tell? My father’s story? My mother’s story? How his choices (sins) affected me? But if I write it all now (which I’ve attempted to do, and stopped like you have), niceness aside, my children will live with similar consequences I’ve had to live with my whole life. And the family I love now – the parents, the siblings, ALL of them – is it worth hurting and airing their dirty laundry in the pursuit of artistic license and freedom? Do I want my writing to do that? To be beautiful and dark and poetic, but dangerous and cruel? Do I want to re-inflict those wounds, wounds which I never chose in the first place but bear all the same? I guess what I want to say is… someday your children might write this very story. What do you want them to say?

    1. Truly? I want them to be honest about how they feel. I don’t want them (or anyone) to ascribe motivations to me for why I made the choices that I did, particularly if we haven’t talked about those motivations. But I also don’t want them to feel like they are ham-stringed by my feelings. Yes, it will probably suck to hear about their hurt (it already does, believe me), but I also don’t want them to feel like they have to bury their feelings to save mine. I do hope that there are conversations that we can have before these things would be aired, and I hope that we’ll continue to have those conversations over the years.

      But if we’re on good terms and it’s not something that they’re trying to hide from me? I want them to be honest. I genuinely believe that they owe that to themselves. And if we’re not on good terms, I think that right there is of far greater concern than what they might write about their experiences.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Alise. I’m a long-time reader and admirer of your gift and style, so I appreciate you sharing these thoughts (fears, burdens, etc) here. And I think you hit the nail on the head. Open communication, both written and verbal, and tender-heartedness is the key. I can only live on folklore, but can say with certainty: I am SO GLAD facebook didn’t exist when my parents went through this. To see it played out publicly, even unintentionally, must be heart-wrenching for all of you.

  6. It is hard for me to put into words how deeply I feel this. Although my situation is a little different, in the middle of my divorce I deleted my blog and basically stopped writing. I felt exposed and like everything I said might be used against me. I thought I could just go back to journaling but it turns out I’m not good at writing without the knowledge that other people are reading it. So… I don’t have any answers here. I just wanted you to know you aren’t alone.

  7. I saw the word “shame” at the top of your post, and my heart sunk. Where does shame come from? Not from our Lord, for sure. We all fall, we all make mistakes, and there are those choices in our lives which can never be undone. And, guess what? They are tossed into the deepest sea, far away from the Father’s remembrance.

    Yes, sometimes consequences mean that hurts need to be healed, anger needs to be smoothed, honesty must be embraced, but shame? At what point do we learn to forgive each other? Just how long is it okay to hold onto our grudges? When do we stop the blame game, and remember that we are all so very frail in our relationships?

    My heart’s desire is for you to be free from shame.

  8. Your friend sounds very wise.

    People learn from other peoples stories. We learn from the beautiful things and we learn from the ugly things. Your writing about those your experiences gives people a chance to relate to you better. Someone out there, somewhere, is going through something similar. The best part for you is that YOU get to choose what you want to share with others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s