. . .speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.
EPHESIANS 4:15 NAS
We live in strange times. On one side, we have the internet with its numerous chat rooms, message boards, comboxes, social media, and blogs where you can say or write virtually anything with the most extreme invective and bile one can muster. On the other side, we have political correctness where just the way you say something can lead you to an onslaught of extreme invective and bile. Nothing captures this dichotomy better than the Russian roulette way celebrities post on Twitter always being one tweet away from career disaster. Ask any radio shock jock, and he or she will tell you that words can make you or break you. But whenever anyone commits a gaffe which as defined as "accidentally speaking the truth," their defense is that they are only being honest. Maybe they intended the offense. Maybe they didn't. But this leaves us with a dilemma. Is it better to speak? Or should you just keep your mouth shut? The answer to this dilemma is charitable honesty.
Most people tend to follow the path that can only be described as "charitable indifference." We can refer to this as being polite, but the truth is that most people don't care to speak the truth. Speaking the truth carries consequences. So, they let it slide. This saves them a lot of drama and hurt feelings. The result is a certain fakeness akin to what you would find in a car salesman. The defense for this disingenuous is that they are "being nice." Politeness becomes the standard for charity, but it is really a selfish strategy to avoid the conflict.
The mirror opposite of charitable indifference is "brutal honesty." These are the people who go around "telling it like it is." These people have a thick hide such that they become indifferent to other people's feelings completely. So, they will tell a woman that she is so hideous that they skipped the ugly stick and dropped the whole tree on her. When you call these brutally honest people out on it, they always defend themselves by saying they are "being honest."
The problem with these people is that they put honesty and charity at odds with each other as if they cannot coexist. You are either going to be nice, or you are going to be honest. But you can't be both. But you can be both. This is known as speaking the truth in love or "charitable honesty."
Charitable honesty is when you tell the truth for the benefit of the other person. That person may or may not be offended. The goal is not to offend. People who are brutally honest actually intend to offend. They want to lay in a lick on someone and absolve themselves with a claim to truth. But they really don't care if the other person benefits from the truth. This meanness is never excusable no matter how true the words may be. Someone who is charitably honest will say the same thing but without the bile. Here are two examples:
Charitable Honesty--"Your fornication will bring you misery."
Brutal Honesty--"You are a cheap whore."The person who is charitably honest deals with the sin. The person who is brutally honest attacks the person. A Mexican friend of mine said it best when he translated a Mexican proverb for me. "Preach loudly. Correct softly." The way I understand this is that we stand high for the truth in the general sense, but we are gentle in applying that truth on the personal level. The Catholic Church demonstrates this when it stands without compromise for right and wrong, but it offers forgiveness to those who have done wrong. Most criticisms of the Catholic Church come down to the Church being too hard or too soft. The irony is that those criticisms often come from the same mouth. It infuriates these critical people that the Catholic Church will call out their sins while at the same time offering absolution to sinners that the critic despises. The result is that the Church is "too severe" and "too forgiving" at the same time. Naturally, this puts the critic up as being morally superior to the Church.
It is contrary to charity to ever despise another person. It is also contrary to charity to be indifferent to that person's flaws. The rule is to always leave someone better than worse. As Blessed Mother Theresa put it, "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." This is the goal of charitable honesty. You seek the good of the other always. Neither the brutally honest nor the charitably indifferent do this.
We have lost this sense of charitable honesty in our culture today. People who are charitably honest have a quality that I have come to call the "Catholic Guilt Ray." Fulton Sheen had the Guilt Ray as well as Mother Angelica. Pope Francis has it. The Catholic Guilt Ray has a quality of scorching your hide, but you don't hate the person for it. You don't get angry at them. You just feel the burning in your own conscience, and you repent. You seek forgiveness, and you resolve to mend your ways. Truly good people have a way of making you good, too.
You can only tell people so much, so if they don't listen, saying it louder or stronger is not going to make any difference. In fact, it will only harden their hearts further. It is at these times that the most charitable you thing you can say is to say nothing. Silence can be just as deafening as words. Even Jesus chose to be silent in those moments when words would do no good.
Always endeavor to speak the truth in love. Don't be fake, and don't be nasty. Speak when it will do some good or remain silent when speaking will do no good. Always seek the good of the other. This is charitable honesty.