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November 30, 2011
Why Do We Become Diplomatic When We Know The Obvious Truth?

We have always been taught that honesty is the best policy, and that to lie is a bad thing to do. Yet, as we grow older, we realize that in many situations, it is a good idea to keep quiet or better still, be diplomatic and tactfully handle sensitive issues. The most ironic thing is, out of all the body language classes, the ones on detecting deception is the least attended. People don't seem to want to know the truth.

Getting away with lies seems less easy to do these days. There are e-mail trails and cellphone videos and rabid cable news networks with a nose for hypocrisy and double talk. There are video montages on YouTube of government officials blatantly contradicting themselves.

We are liars and lie catchers, and the sport runs from the banal to the breathtaking, from personal to public. On the extreme side, almost everything we know is a lie in the media, and mainstream education is saturated with lies.

Right now, someone somewhere is lying about "having plans tonight." Meanwhile, someone else is discovering that his or her spouse has methodically concealed an affair. All you have to do is watch or read the news and you'll about somebody lying whether it's government, corporations or the public, lies are all around us.

When it comes to close personal relationships, diplomacy and politeness seem to often be problematic issues that can have can have disastrous consequences, especially in high-stakes situations.

We resort to politeness strategies when we have to share information that might offend or embarrass someone or information that suggests someone has made a mistake or a bad choice. The more sensitive an issue is, the more likely we are to use these kinds of politeness strategies.

The dividing line between being honest and being diplomatic is a thin one. We have to be careful in deciding when to be honest and when to be at our diplomatic best. We also have to decide whether we should be absolutely candid, or use the truth as a matter of convenience?

Our relationships demand complete honesty, or else, we get into trouble. In a household, for instance, the husband was quite diplomatic in commenting on his wife's unpalatable cooking. Whatever his wife would cook, he would always say the food was 'not bad.' He would avoid criticising his wife's cooking skills. The situation worsened to a point when the wife cooked food that was almost inedible. The husband could not take it anymore and screamed at his wife for serving such bad-tasting food. The wife was taken aback. From that day onwards, everything the husband had diplomatically covered up started to break down. Daily fights and arguments became the order of the day between the husband and wife. One day, both of them decided they could not live together anymore.

This might be a worst case scenario, but it serves as a good example for us to know where our diplomacy or lack of honesty can lead to in our relationships. Before you decide to be totally frank, you must carefully analyse all consequences of your actions. While life needs a good mix of honesty and diplomacy, when to be honest and when to be diplomatic is a tough individual choice. Whatever we do must make us comfortable, peaceful and happy. An honest person will feel frustrated and restless when forced to be diplomatic against his will, while a diplomatic one will get highly stressed at the thought of speaking the truth. How to react in a situation also depends on what is at stake. If you want to be honest and speak your mind against your boss, you better be prepared to lose your job. If you tell your friend what you hate about him, it might end your friendship. Once you are ready to accept the consequences, without regret or remorse, then you can be honest.

Why do we become diplomatic when we know the obvious truth? Diplomacy is always an escapist trait, which we use to avoid hurting others and ourselves. When the wife asks the husband: "Am I looking fat?" and the husband answers honestly, "Yes, you have put on too much weight," one can well imagine the wife's reactions and the husband's plight. But if the husband speaks his mind and faces his wife's wrath out of genuine affection for her, it is likely that she will enrol herself in some fitness programme and actually lose weight! Diplomacy protects us in the short term, but it is honesty that brings long-term benefits and permanent gains.

To be completely honest, you must ask yourself, "Why am I afraid of speaking the truth"? You will find that the answer is obvious. Our diplomacy is only for our self-protection; it is a self-preservation device. Our egos are too fragile to accept insult and criticism. In our daily lives, few of us want to rock the boat by speaking the truth at work or in our homes. We like to avoid confrontations. The difference between living a superficial life and a rich and meaningful one is eventually determined by whether we are being diplomatic or brutally honest.


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