The Etiquette of Truth

The truth used to be told straight up, according to the facts, as it was seen, and with no apologies. Of course, if it was bad news, it was given with heart-felt sympathy and concern, as with the doctor’s prognosis of our disability, illness, or disease. Otherwise, the truth was served up as the truth. Who doesn’t tell the truth or want to know the truth? Well….

When I was fifteen, I remember having a conversation with my best girlfriend. I trustingly asked her to tell me something in my personality that needed tweaking; some bothersome trait she found annoying. I seriously wanted to be a better person. Who else would tell you the truth but your best friend? She agreed to tell me something I needed to change on one condition: that I would first tell her a habit she needed to change.

Well, I loved her the way she was. The only thing I could think of was that most of the time I went to her house to spend time with her. So that’s what I said—I would like for her to come to my house more often instead of always having to go to hers.

Now that it was my turn, I asked her again. She said, “I don’t want to. I don’t know.”

I felt so let down and disappointed that she wouldn’t give me any constructive criticism. Now that I’m older, I understand the conflict she must have felt in telling the truth, even though I had asked for it.

Since becoming disabled, I have observed (or have become more aware of) people’s aversion to and avoidance of discomfort, whether mental or physical. One of these seemingly uncomfortable situations is being around the disabled.

During the five months of SCI rehabilitation after my car wreck, we were warned of other’s reactions to us. The teaching staff explained that their responses to us were more a result of their ignorance than our condition. I have experienced this as true.

Before I internalize another’s words, looks, or actions, I remove my self-centered glasses stained from my life experiences. (Regardless, if a matter has nothing to do with oneself, we tend to interpret it personally.) When I do this, I can see their awkwardness and discomfort as they approach me.

Most often they look over my head or in another direction. If they muster up enough nerve to meet my gaze, I simply smile. I understand. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. And, I’ve learned that we in wheelchairs, using walkers, or assisted by guide dogs aren’t the only ones disabled.

For those of you paralyzed by uncertainty of what to do in our presence, it’s okay. For a starter in etiquette, you could just acknowledge that I am there with a smile and a nod.  At our next encounter, you could do the same or ask if there is anything I need help with. You might even confess your lack of experience in helping a disabled person, but you’re available and willing to learn.

Amazingly, truth dismantles barriers. Unhealed wounds, self-absolving justifications, and staid conclusive judgements do not teach us about anyone or anything, particularly ourselves. There should be no consequences to a well-meaning truth.

What has been your experience? Let’s talk about you.

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