To tell or not to tell…….that is the question.

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved Last night I was watching a Bollywood talk show where two star wives were being interviewed. Both were being asked the same set of questions and it was delightful to hear their opposite points of view.

One question was of particular interest to me and set me thinking about how different people react to criticism. The ladies were asked whether they gave honest feedback to their husbands about their acting skills etc after their movies released or if they held back and only said nice things. One was of the opinion that the truth must always be heavily sugar-coated, and preferred saying lots of nice things. It helped build confidence and faith in oneself. She maintained that criticism, however disguised, shatters one’s self-esteem and does not foster a desire to improve oneself. Rather it leads to dejection and lack of motivation.

The other star wife thought for a few minutes and finally said she had always been her husband’s staunchest critic. No mincing of words, no sugar-coating…in fact, ‘telling it like it is’ was her mantra. If she wouldn’t tell him the truth about how dismally he had acted in a particular movie, she couldn’t see who else would. He was normally surrounded by loads of ardent fans who gushed and fawned and praised and flattered. She felt it was her duty to bring him down to earth and give him a few reality checks.

After I switched off the dvd, I sat for a few seconds pondering the eternal debate between telling a half-truth to loved ones and protecting their feelings or being ‘cruel to be kind’ and ensuring their ultimate well-being. I guess it is only human to want to be praised and told we are wonderful. We all love hearing delightful things said about us. I finally came to the conclusion that when I ask a family member for ‘an honest opinion’, that is exactly what I want. Although I might get annoyed when I ask my hubby how I look in a particular dress and he says ‘I don’t think it is the right outfit for this occasion’, I do appreciate, deep down….well, after I have swallowed my irritation….his candid response. It does not necessarily mean I will immediately find another outfit. But it will help me understand better from another perspective why it might not quite be the right choice.

Two years ago, I attended a writing course, and after having written a long story with an intricately woven plot, I submitted it to my tutor (an established author herself) for comments and feedback. I was pretty pleased with my efforts and expected rave reviews. Instead I got one line written at the very bottom of my story: “The story lacks depth. Sound and interesting plot, but needs lots of re-writing.”. For a few seconds, I was shattered. My confidence in myself as a writer plummeted. I stared at my instructor and my eyes filled with tears. I could see my dream of becoming a writer dissolve and disappear. She smiled at me and patted my shoulder. “Write it again and bring it back to me in two weeks time” was all she said.

I went home and decided that I would become a painter, a trapeze artist, a chef, a gymnast…in fact, anything but a writer. I mooned around pitying myself for two days before I decided to take on the challenge. I sat every night polishing the piece, writing and re-writing, scratching out large paragraphs and writing all over again. I wept with frustration as I battled writer’s block. At the end of the two weeks, I re-submitted my work. She read it. Then read it again. Silence. Just as I was beginning to despair, she smiled and said simply “That was much, much better”. No gushing compliments. No lavish praise. Instead, just a simple “That was much much better”

Strangely enough, those words meant the world to me. It helped me realise that any skill, any talent cannot be perfect or even moderately good right from the word go. It needs to be nurtured, it needs to be worked on and polished. In a way, if she had written ‘Brilliant’ on my very first essay, I probably would not have tried to improve the piece.

She did me a great kindness that day when she chose to be honest instead of kind.

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