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It’s a phrase we hear from time to time, often in the Christian community: “May I be honest with you?”
When any of us hears these words, we know whatever is coming next is not good. Not. Good.
The person speaking these words is either offended by something we did, or is ready to point out one of our flaws.
Several years ago after one of my speaking engagements, a young man came up to me and said these very words. Of course, I said “Yes.” What are we supposed to say, anyway?
We can’t come back with, “No, not really. Lie and say something nice, or be quiet.”
So, I listened as he dissected one sentence of a 45-minute presentation and told me what I needed to change. I went back to my hotel room, thought about his words and realized he was incorrect. It’s important that we listen–and I did.
But in this case, he wasn’t right. I make plenty of mistakes on stage (and I think about them a lot), but this wasn’t one of them.
Over the years I’ve thought about this phrase and even made jokes about it. But, if I can be honest (see what I did there?), the phrase “May I be honest with you” needs to disappear.
There is an obvious reason why we need to junk this phrase; just saying it brings an implication that we are sometimes dishonest.
But wait, there’s more.
If we must ask someone whether we can candidly talk with them about an issue, we’ve skipped a major step.
Because before we can “be honest,” we must invest in another person, listening to our friend–a lot–over time. We know our friend’s flaws, and accept him or her as she is. We’ve allowed our friend to be real with us, without condemnation. And, we’ve been transparent ourselves.
Those who want to jump in and be honest–almost always–have yet to do any of these things.
They think it is important to “speak truth,” but do not grasp the importance of first speaking words of love, of commitment to the friendship, and of encouragement.
And when we’ve yet to be transparent with another, our words of “honesty” come across as words of superiority. Why? If I am quick to point out another’s failing without sharing any of my own, I’m just another perfect person, trying to help another become like me. It’s empty.
We’re exploring a 1st Faith here and “May I be Honest” is a key facet of finding the faith of the early Christians.
Jesus invested heavily in 12 men. In doing so, he earned permission to be honest with them. He answered their difficult questions, he served them; he did everything required to create a vibrant, open relationship with those he would come to call “friends.”
Jesus could be honest with his followers, without asking permission.
Paul was the same way. He wrote some difficult letters to churches, but not before he served these churches extensively, receiving nothing in return. Paul endured everything from persecution to sickness to hunger and homelessness to build these churches; he too, earned the right to “be honest.”
It’s a lesson for me. Many times, I’ve wanted to “just be honest” with someone–but it wasn’t my place. I had yet to earn true standing in that person’s life.
If I want a true 1st Faith–the faith of the first followers–I’ll invest in a person deeply enough so that if difficult conversations are required, my listener will know I care about them more than I care about imparting what is “right” to them.
So, the next time someone asks, “May I be honest with you,” my response might be, “Why?”
It’s not a flat-out “no,” but it can open the door to an important conversation on what we must do before we are “honest” with another.
Honesty is always important. But earning the right to speak matters, too.