I have recently been faced with a dilemma of whether or not to give someone information, constructive criticism you could say, but I feel they will just take it as a personal slight. This problem of whether honesty is always the best policy comes to us all from time to time. Charles Dickens captured my usual sentiment quite nicely: “to conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.”

But what about those to whom your heart isn’t open? Telling my boyfriend he has food in his teeth comes very easily, but staring at that questionable chunk of ‘green’ in between the unfamiliar pegs of someone you only speak to you if you happen to be sat next to them in a lecture, presents a moral dilemma. Is it being a good Samaritan getting involved in what other people choose to keep in their teeth, or just sticking your nose in? In reality, surely nobody can object to being told something like this, regardless of the mutual embarrassment at the moment the news is broken. Issues can, of course, often be bigger than a piece of spinach.

“Is it being a good Samaritan getting involved in what other people choose to keep in their teeth, or just sticking your nose in?”

My mum lives next door to a couple who must have struggled with how to tell her they thought she was being too noisy (a common problem for the neighbour of a middle aged lecturer!) They eventually mustered up the courage to ask her to keep the noise down… A card came one day, letting her know that they were expecting a baby and apologies for any noise the little bundle of joy makes, but they will try to keep it to a minimum. I imagine the young couple have spent many evenings agonising over how to tell my mum to be quiet without jeopardising the fragile neighbourly relationship. Are these polite hints the best way to tell someone something you don’t really want to? Or is it just the cowards way out?

Honesty

Perhaps it is only appropriate to point out a problem if you have an immediate solution. At any event where men are wearing suits (look out for it at graduation) there is often someone who has forgotten to undo the stitching at the back of their jackets. Should you highlight his rooky mistake if you don’t have a pair of scissors to hand to help him out? Laddered tights are another, bad breath, or even a bad hair cut… What good does pointing out the obvious do other than hurt your friend’s feelings, or make a stranger feel awkward? As they say, ignorance is bliss.

“Perhaps it is only appropriate to point out a problem if you have an immediate solution”

It is one of life’s perpetual mysteries; I’m afraid to say I don’t have the answer. As much as I’d like to say honesty is always the best policy, when it puts someone in an uncomfortable position it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut. That said, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you if the roles were reversed? This is surely the ultimate test of whether being the messenger of painful information makes you the good Samaritan or simply the critical bitch.

Floss Binks

Embedded image: thinkpublic via Flickr. Featured image: Floss’ own

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