“The Macedonians . . . had not the wit to call a spade by any other name than a spade” (Desiderius Erasmus).
FRANKNESS IS OFTEN A VIRTUE, BUT IT’S ONE THAT CAN EASILY BE PERVERTED. When it’s important that clear communication takes place, plain speaking is to be preferred over any other kind, and Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said, “There is no wisdom like frankness.” But how many of us have this wisdom? How many of us have the skill to speak candidly and straightforwardly without losing control of our words and speaking rudely, or even cruelly?
Like many other similar traits, frankness is only good if certain conditions are met, and in this case, the first condition to be met is truth. When anything less than the truth is being communicated, frankness loses a bit of its luster, to say the least.
But a second condition to be met is kindness. Confucius said, “Straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.” The courage that drives us to be candid must be balanced with the kindness that makes us courteous. We should speak frankly, yes, but we should also be considerate of those who have to listen to our communications. We need to be strong enough to be tactful.
It’s one of the commonest things in the world for unkindness to be excused as mere candor. Tennessee Williams said, “All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.” And Marshall McLuhan echoed that thought when he said, “It is the weak and confused who worship the pseudo-simplicities of brutal directness.”
So we need to check not only our techniques but also our motives — honestly and without self-deception — when we speak frankly. It may sound like an overstatement, but I believe it’s true: love is the only healthy reason for telling the truth. Frankness will only be commendable in us when we use it to convey truth with charity and good judgment.
But finally, what about those times when we are the recipients of someone else’s frankness? What if they speak rudely and with a lack of love? Well, in that case, as long as what we’re hearing is truth, we need to profit from it, regardless of the source or the delivery method.
“An enemy who tells the truth contributes infinitely more to our improvement than a friend who deludes us” (Louis Fortin).