Tact, white lies and videotape.

[Actually, scrap the ‘videotape’ bit – I’m actually talking about photos… but it just didn’t sound as good in the title.]

I’m essentially a pathetically honest person, and nothing will bring me to boiling point like catching the kids lying. Usually to avoid an anticipated negative reaction from us. Frustratingly they don’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that being caught lying will carry a far worse consequence. (I wonder if that’s because we aren’t catching them enough, and they are getting away with it far more than we realise?)

But then life is more complicated than that. We all lie from time to time. Even honest old me. Or we don’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because if we did, we’d have no friends. You know what I’m talking about – white lies.  Lies we tell because they are easier than even being assertive; because we don’t want to hurt feelings of others.

There’s no need to point out the hypocrisy factor there. I’m well aware of it – particularly as Ms 10 negotiates some tricky situations with friends – and I have even lied for her (invented “subsequent engagements” for her shall we say). I do try and help her with all I have learnt about ‘assertiveness’ – how you can rephrase something so that you ‘own’ the feeling, rather than being blatantly criticising the other person.  eg. “I feel *this way* when you do *such & such*, and we’ve discussed the whole “white lie” thing as not being.. ideal.

Heaven knows, assertiveness is still a work in progress for me. Sometimes I can make it work, sometimes I fail.  But at least I try.

And I do try really hard not to offend people – and I also really really thought that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything” was a given.  Unless you are asked directly for your opinion, you don’t go out of your way to say something negative to someone about themselves.

I really, really thought that was a fairly standard M.O.

So, lately, why is it I keep seeing the opposite?  I could list numerous examples of verbal “behaviour” I’ve seen recently (specifically around children’s sport), but more and more I’m seeing it on the internet.  I’m not even talking ‘flaming’ by random d***heads – I quickly learnt that that comes with the territory. I’m seeing it with supposed friends. And family!

I was inspired this morning to finally write about this because of an interesting Facebook experience that Rootietoot has just written about. You can read it for yourself (and then the amusing way she dealt with it)   But seriously?  Who, totally unprompted, writes something like that?!  Do you?  It wouldn’t enter my head to get on Facebook, and even if I saw that an ‘old friend’ had an ‘interest’ that didn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t just boldly tell them I disagreed.  Obviously some people do think that’s ok. Go figure.  (And then people like me then get their knickers in a knot and hope that their subsequent comment isn’t taken the wrong way! My point is that while cigars (in this case) don’t do anything for me, (hence, in this situation, I wasn’t going to even white lie for Rootie!!!) – I would no more up and write that on his Facebook than fly in the air!  Unless they’d put up a poll asking for my opinion!

Meanwhile I’ve been pondering the whole issue of when it is ok to say something unsolicited. Is it ok for family to say they don’t like something? Where is the line crossed?  My daughters don’t like it if I say I’m not that keen on something they are wearing.  Is it still ok for me to say that to them – as the parent trying to guide them through the minefield of childhood and adolescence? Or is there some magical age they reach at which it’s time for me to shut up ? (unless they ask me directly.)

Certainly, at 40-something, I don’t appreciate unsolicited opinions from my parents! I won’t even go into the litany of issues I have had over the years over comments made about different parenting decisions and rules we have. Or what they said before we first took our kids on those first tandem holidays.

I pretty much grit my teeth every time I talk to my mother – it almost goes without saying that she will profer some unwanted opinion any time I talk to her.  But a couple of things, recently, in emails, from both my father and my sister, have left me pretty much wishing I was adopted!  They seem really trivial in the retelling, but I guess they are the proverbial straws on this camel’s back.

A few weeks back I emailed my family a link to the photo of our new dining room table, and also the link to the album of photos from our recent bike touring.

My Dad responds about the table:  “The table looks good ..just what we need down here.  was it made locally?   can’t say the chairs turn me on..sorry…”

OK. So, why say anything about the chairs?  Doesn’t a normal person just say  “I really like the table!” ?  By not commenting on the chairs, the message is clear enough that you’re not waxing lyrical about them. And if they didn’t like the table either, just say “nice table”…  Because it’s not as if we were showing them the catalogue and asking for their input before we bought it. We’ve already bought the damn furniture!  Find something positive to say, can’t you?

For some reason it really pissed me off. Finally, the only way I was able to deal with it was, in an eventual email back, to treat it as a joke, and tell him that next time he comes to visit he can sit on the bloody floor then.

But then there is the whole email protocol thing, which neither of my parents, nor sister, seem to get.  They just don’t embrace the convenience factor of being able to check out photos from distant family, at their leisure. (And that, isn’t it amazing that, despite the fact that the grandkids live 600km away, Tracey puts photos on the web so we can see them before another 6 months have passed?  –  No! Instead we complain that we prefer to look at normal photo prints. Even though Tracey has said ‘tell me which ones you like and I’ll send you copies..’)

They don’t seem to get that the beauty of email is that you can deal with it at your leisure, and the sender isn’t actually standing there, tapping their feet. I haven’t dragged them in and sat them in front a slide projector.  Or shoved an envelope of photos under their nose while they’re standing in the kitchen preparing dinner.  So, you know, you don’t actually need to whiz back an email informing the sender just where their photos fit on your priority list that day. That you’d rather do housework first, for example!!

Both my father and my sister have now done that to me. Ok, with Dad it wasn’t housework, it was more a “I don’t have time to look at all those photos right now” implying that there are just so many of them”  – Hey, guess what Dad! I’m not actually there timing how long you look at each photo, you know! It would take you, what.. 2 minutes? To click through 50 photos? You don’t have 2 minutes in your life over the next couple of days to have a quick squiz at your daughter’s holiday photos?

It’s got up my nose so much that I’m not going to bother sending them any more.  I just ponder why it is that random strangers throughout the world are more interested in what I do than my own family!

And I sit here and wonder what is going wrong with my world, that my extended family think it’s ok to actually tell me they hate my new dining room chairs, and that I’m actually really not that important in their lives.

So, rightly or wrongly, I’m more than ever convinced that there is actually a place –  even with family and friends –  for manners, tact, and the odd white lie. And for knowing when to just shut the hell up.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Tact, white lies and videotape.

  1. There is room for the white lie. If the kids are wearing something I’m not crazy about, but it’s not offensive or immodest, just say something pleasant. I remember as a teen wearing a perfectly conservative button up shirt, in a shade of screaming pink (actually a good color on me) and dad going nuts, shouting about “why would I want to call that kind of attention to myself??” when a simple “hm, interesting color choice” would have done just fine.

  2. You know, I’ve told my kids a thousand times, if you lie and get caught, you’re in far deeper trouble than if you just ‘fess up to the issue and tell the truth. And yet, they continue to believe that we’ll beat them to a pulp (why? We never have!) if we find out they’ve done (whatever). Never mind the bad case of nerves they have to deal with, when they fear being caught. Jest tell the feckin’ truth, already!

  3. Linda

    Another great story that I can relate to on so many levels

  4. I did tell my sister recentlyher hair really looked awful and she should get it cut and at the same time asked if she was using cheap shampoo.

    I did start off with ….. can I be brutally frank?

    She has had it cut and looks much better for it but I think she is still using that same shampoo and no conditioner but I will now remain silent.

    I think I got away with it because I don’t usually make comments like that.

    I have long since learned to tune out the BUT that seems to come after a compliment delivered by some people.

  5. I think there are layers of lies and half-truths.

    If asked for an opinion it can be hard to be totally truthful without brutality or lies in some instances…

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