I like the concept of speaking the truth in love — theoretically. I like the idea that love requires hard things — theoretically. I like the idea that the truth is part of love — theoretically.
We are not always right, and sometimes we need to be corrected. That’s a fact.
Also a fact: 99-100% of the time when somebody “speaks the truth in love,” it comes across as incredibly untruthful, unloving, and even hateful.
Continuing with facts: I will not listen to anything someone says that begins with, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but…”
It’s an involuntary thing. My hackles rise, my defenses go up, and I prepare myself for hearing something irrelevant and potentially offensive. Because it’s always irrelevant and/or offensive.
And if somebody spouts harsh, hateful things and then concludes with, “Bailey, I’m saying all these things out of love. I care about you” — that will not, that absolutely will not ever feel like love to me.
And it will also never change my mind.
Isn’t it the same for you?
But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all said something, or wanted to say something, that we thought somebody else needed to hear, and we wanted to say it because we care about them. Like I said, that’s an actual phenomenon we all face.
I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how it’s possible to to “speak the truth in love,” without actually doing more harm than good.
I think we oftentimes place too much emphasis on the importance of conveying truth when we “speak the truth in love.” “In love” just softens the blow. It’s about tone or attitude. It’s a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.
But what if we flipped it, where we focused on the “in love” part? And what if we understood “in love” not as a tone or an attitude that the critic assumes, but a relational context — a relational context that isn’t established by firstly or primarily “speaking the truth”?
We might assume that speaking the truth is the most loving thing, full stop. The truth will set them free and all that. There are people out there walking around who claim to be loving or tolerant, but the only thing they do is force their opinion on others.
I don’t think speaking the truth is always the most loving thing to do. Truth — hard truth, confrontational truth, you-need-to-think-about-this truth — needs to be given and received within a trusting, understanding relationship.
We all know how annoying it is when a random person comes into our life or onto our blogs or social media platforms and graces us with their (ahem) pearls of wisdom. Like I said, whenever somebody feels compelled to “speak truth” to us, it’s ten to one completely unhelpful and out of touch.
I can say that, because every time I was that person “loving” someone else by letting them know the truth, I later found out that was off base and offensive — and I alienated them from me.
This is not the way of love. Or truth. Truth-speaking must done within a relationship. Truth-speaking must be done when you have the permission and the trust of the person to whom you’re speaking truth. Because…..
…..there is more than one way to present the truth. There are times when certain aspects need to be emphasized, and emphasized in a certain way. It all depends on where a person is at. That’s why it’s absolutely, non-negotiably imperative to know where a person is at before just spouting your opinion.
See first point re: having a relationship.
Knowing where someone is at requires understanding them — not being related to them, or being their friend, or reading all their Facebook posts that pop up in your feed. It requires actually knowing their side of the story, knowing their views, knowing where they are and where they want to go and how they do or don’t want to get there.
My friend once told me that she never gives advice that people don’t already believe themselves.
You are going to get nowhere by speaking a truth that a person doesn’t already believe. You are going to lose their trust. You are going to lose your credibility as a person capable of understanding and empathizing.
Don’t do it. Don’t be that person.
You have to give advice and encouragement that takes into account others’ assumptions, beliefs, and goals.
This doesn’t mean you don’t ever say something “they don’t want to hear.” This doesn’t mean you sit around smiling and nodding and approving everything they do. How many times have we believed something but not wanted to follow through?
Living out our beliefs often requires a cheerleader and a kick in the butt.
And that’s how I now see speaking the truth in love — not imposing my beliefs on others in a “loving way,” but loving other people, understanding them, helping them live out their convictions, and being honest with them when they stray away from what they believe.
**Caveat** I am not saying you should never share your beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe in them or express concern over what they believe — as long as you do it in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.
A healthy, understanding relationship requires honesty and authenticity: “I hear you. I don’t believe that myself, but I hear you. I see it like this….” That is not confrontational. It allows you to share your piece without triggering their defensive mechanisms. It allows you to express concern without offense. It allows you to understand them better and ascertain how to best help.
To be honest, it is a far more winsome defense of your beliefs when you unconditionally love someone and help them where they’re at while still being frank about your own beliefs.
That’ll get me to listen up, every time.
It might even change my mind.
That’s the power of speaking the truth in love.