If I believe you are wrong about something, should I tell you, or should I keep it to myself?
What a dilemma!
On the one hand, I could free you from some error that is hurting you or holding you back in some way. Or, perhaps, by bringing up what I think is your error, I might even discover from the honest and thorough conversation that ensues that I am the one who is wrong. And then I could free myself from error! Either way, one or more of us could end up saving money, becoming happier, becoming better informed, becoming more honest, building the trust between us, and on and on.
Sounds great to me!
But then there’s the real world. In the real world, I observe that many people take offense at the smallest things. They lack the intellectual honesty to listen and to examine a charge that they are in error. They become bitter and even lash out. Or worse, they just get quiet and they keep these things to themselves, becoming “silent friends”, who seem to like you in some ways, but who strangely never have anything to say about the goings on in your life and in your philosophical interests.
Hence, the dilemma.
So how do I play this? Should I assume unilaterally that you “can’t handle the truth”? Would that be the wise or kind thing to do? Or would that prove instead to be a tragic decision because maybe, just maybe, you’re mature enough to discuss the truth objectively and to reform your beliefs or practices accordingly should it turn out that I’m right?
How interesting it is that we live in such an irrational and dishonest society that a person should have to wonder these things in the first place. There will always be dishonest people, I’m sure, but this many? Is this natural?
I believe that this sort of dishonesty is the reason that it has become so fashionable to say things like “faith is personal” or “who a person votes for is a private matter”. I believe that as a society, we are more apt simply to “stuff it” than we are to hash things out with those who disagree. And why? A few reasons come to mind—especially as I contemplate my experiences on Facebook these last few years—but here’s the primary one:
Some have certainly become discouraged by too many debates with dishonest people who proved in the course of time that they don’t really care what the facts are. As a result, the discouragement leads them to quit trying to promote the truth at all. They decide that it is simply better to avoid the conflict than to risk a success—that it is better to let the person stew in his or her errors and to write them off as either hopeless or not worth the trouble.
I don’t know about you, but such decisions raise a crisis of conscience for me.
Even so, however, I suppose that those who decide to stuff it may not be entirely without a point. If, for example, I’ve observed that for many years, some certain person has habitually denied the truth and gotten bent out of shape when it was brought to a point of contention, maybe it is wisest to leave them alone. The moment I do that, however, I’m faced with the obvious question of whether I’m writing them off as hopeless or not.
And that brings us back to the same dilemma and the same crisis of conscience.
What would be awfully convenient, of course, is if most people would decide to be objective, logical, honest, and slow to take offense. This would immediately remove the “sparks” from most debates, as well as the muddy waters of emotionalism and irrationality. And indeed, why shouldn’t we expect such paradigms from a society in which somewhere around 85% claim to be admirers of Jesus of Nazareth and where so many seem to be generally in support of such ideals as “truth, justice, and the American way“?
But there is no such sweeping tide of honesty at work in America. There is no tangible sense here that a lie is truly despicable no matter what it is, or that it is unacceptable to continue in an error. There is no onslaught of shame here for those who prove themselves dishonest or foolish or ignorant. Rather, it seems that what gets much more credence today is the “Judge Not!” fallacy.
So that makes me a radical, I suppose, that I would even consider pointing out an error to a friend in this judge-not society. Yes, I know that it could save you a boatload of money or heartache, or that it could even help make your dearest dreams for your life come true if I were to help you in this matter, but it just seems too un-American or un-Christian, even, to risk offending you by mentioning it—and much less to take you by the lapels and talk some sense into you.
And so continues the dilemma as I attempt to navigate my way wisely through this world. My hope, of course, is for a society where fact, logic, and good behavior reign supreme, but I can’t figure out how to get from here to there without correcting anybody.
Or I could be like so many others who are content to bemoan the sad state of things, but not to lift a finger to help anybody else change. Or worse, like my anti-activist friends who go out of their way to tell me that I ought not go out of my way to change anybody else.
NOTE: 16 February 2014. It has been nearly two years since I posted this question, “Should I Tell You?”. I have finally answered it with this new article.