If you’ve been following the news at all, you have probably heard that the site WikiLeaks recently revealed a trove of confidential diplomatic documents. I confess that I have not followed this story very closely, nor do I plan to. Hopefully no one will be physically hurt by it, though it certainly appears there is a lot of blushing going on in U.S. embassies around the world. From what I gathered, it is as if America’s diplomatic diary has been passed around the class, and the gossip wasn’t always nice. I believe Kim Jong-il was described as flabby, for instance. All of this will pass. When I was in my early twenties my girlfriend at the time came to me clearly upset. Sarah, my girlfriend, would not tell me why, but I pressed her and pressed her until she spilled it. Apparently a mutual friend did not know we were dating. When she found out, this woman said, “Oh. I had so much respect for Sarah.”
That’s probably the meanest thing I’ve ever heard said about me. I survived. Why? Because it wasn’t the truth. Cruelty is never the truth, and precisely why we are more likely to share it in closed circles and diplomatic emails than to the person’s face. Everyone spends a certain amount of time masked in their ego’s perception of themselves—that person we think we need to be in order to be loved and accepted. This is what we mock. When the person isn’t present, we can remember them as a cartoon, a comic book villain all vanity and self-absorption.
But when the person themselves is present, no matter how thick a personality they’ve built to get about in the world, there still stands before us a soul recognizable as ourselves. Yes, the personality is annoying; yes, it would always be easier if everyone else spoke straight from their heart; but when we attack that personality in the presence of the sprit, we must first blind ourselves to the very thing we are always seeking.
Thus that aphorism about if you have nothing nice to say. I admit I spend a certain amount of time saying nothing, which is often the best thing anyway. Perhaps in our silence, the one doing the talking will hear himself clearly and think, “That doesn’t really sound like me.” Which it never is. No one can be crueler to us than we ourselves, for only we have the power to decide we must somehow be someone other than who we already are.
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