“Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It’s how true friends talk” (Peggy Noonan).
CANDOR REQUIRES A CERTAIN KIND OF COURAGE. To be frank and sincere in the expression of our thoughts is to risk rejection, and sometimes even retaliation. So we are sometimes less than candid in our communications. Nevertheless, when we open up our hearts and speak honestly, we honor those with whom we communicate in this way. As Peggy Noonan suggests, “It’s how true friends talk.”
We can’t discuss candor, however, without remembering that caution is in order. As Wilhelm Stekel said, “Candor is always a double-edged sword; it may heal or it may separate.” When wisdom tells us that being candid would do more harm than good, we ought to keep our silence. Just because a thing is true, that doesn’t mean it should be verbalized. “Not every sheer truth is better for showing her face,” wrote Pindar. “Silence also many times is the wisest thing for a man to have in his mind.” Some truths are damaging while others are constructive, and those that merely do damage should be kept to ourselves.
Ideally, we should speak with both candor and courtesy, but doing this is very hard. Indeed, it is one of life’s greatest challenges. Most of the time, we go overboard in one direction or the other. Either we speak unkindly and hurtfully in the name of “candor,” or we fail to communicate things that really need to be communicated because we value “courtesy.” I believe it’s possible to be both candid and courteous, but consistently doing this is beyond most of us. Even the very wise sometimes fail to get the balance right. All we can do is make the necessary adjustments when we see we’ve erred.
When we have the need or the desire to be candid with someone, it pays to make sure that what we have to say is really the truth. When a friend listens to us, thinking that we’re being frank, and what we say turns out to be untrue, we have done them a great disservice. It is better not to be candid than to be candid about a falsehood.
But when it is honestly and compassionately practiced, candor has a cleansing, refreshing effect on our relationships. We spend so much time being superficial with one another, our relationships become dingy. But a little heart-to-heart candor makes them shine.
“A frank talk is good soap for hearts” (Arabian Proverb).