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To Be Honest with You...

by on May 07, 2019 4:00 AM

Last week I was shopping in a locally-owned store here in Happy Valley. I was being a good consumer and doing my part to boost the economy, when I overheard another customer talking on his mobile phone. “To be honest with you...” he said to the person on the other end. He then went on to explain something, the details of which were lost to me as we each went our separate ways in search of whatever items we were there to buy.

I’m forever amused when people use that caveat in conversation. My immediate response is always, “No, lie to me.” But that response is reserved for my inner voice, said only for my personal sarcastic amusement, and rarely exits my mouth. Except when my kids say, “To be honest with you,” and then I feel it’s my parental duty to point out to them the error of their ways and how they might want to reconsider what they said.

Because what are you saying when you start a sentence with “To be honest with you?” When you interject that colloquialism into a conversation, the larger context is that everything else you’ve said is a lie – except for the part immediately following that caveat. After which you’ll go back to lying.

Unfortunately, this may be more true that we like to think or admit.

Given the day and age we live in, with instantaneous communication among the masses, it seems that lying is almost a national pastime. All sorts of commentators, pundits, academics and plain-old regular folk keep score as to who lied the most and constantly point out the errors of others ways. That might be the reason that I hear some variation of “To be honest with you,” on a regular basis. People feel they need other people to know that what they are about to say is very important and is, in fact, the truth.

Except the verbal statements I hear immediately preceded by, “to be honest with you” often have no more chance of being factual than anything else that has been said before or will be said after that stipulation. Meaning “to be honest with you” is dishonest.

Which is likely why I’m not a fan of caveats in speech in general. Even though I annoyingly find myself dropping an occasional one or two without realizing what I’ve done.

No offense, but… With all due respect… To be fair...

Why is it that a remark immediately following the caveat, “no offense, but,” often offends? Or starting a sentence, “with all due respect,” likely means the following commentary will not be respectful? Or when beginning a statement with “to be fair,” is what comes next rarely going to be fair.

That being said...

I said one thing, then I’m going to say another thing which may contradict the first thing. But I need to remind you I said the first thing before going on to the second. Why not just say the second thing?

Or the lack-of-personal-confidence caveats.

I’m no expert, but... I didn’t go to college, but... I didn’t see/hear/read that, but...

It’s OK, we’re all humans and have our own opinions. There’s no need to demean yourself before you say it. Go ahead and say it. Even if you didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

All of the above are some of my least favorite caveats. My suggestion for anyone preparing to make a statement in everyday conversation who finds themselves mentally getting ready to preface their statement with a disclaimer…  don’t. Imagine instead that you are 5-years-old, have no preconceived ideas about how you should say things, and just say what you want to say.

If you’d like a cultural reference to hit this concept home, here’s an oldie but a goodie. Back in the 1960’s there was a daytime television show called “House Party” which was hosted by a man named Art Linkletter. Arguably the most popular segment on the show was “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” which consisted of Mr. Linkletter interviewing children and the on-air comments they made by just giving him straightforward answers – which were often hilarious. So hilarious they published several books of them.

During his years on television it is estimated that Art Linkletter interviewed almost 20,000 children. Almost 20,000 children who made almost 20,000 witty and humorous comments. And it’s a safe bet that not one started with a caveat. The freshness and wonder children see in the world, without the concealing and hypocritical editorializing, means they speak the plain unvarnished truth. Such as the young boy who was asked how he celebrated his birthday and replied, “I had ice cream, cake, candy, milk and threw up.” Or the young girl who described the ways her brother got into trouble: “Well, this week he dropped all the guest towels into the toilet and yesterday he gave the goldfish a bubble bath.”

So, to be honest with you, I’m no expert, but with all due respect, please don’t caveat your sentences. That being said, to be fair, please don’t preface them either.



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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