Balancing honesty and kindness

Namine explained to me her thoughts on honesty as it pertains to other people’s feelings.

Namine has two kinds of books in her curriculum for school: those which she is supposed to read by herself, and those which she is supposed to read with a parent. For the latter, I read out loud to Namine each night before bed. After we finish reading for the night, we discuss what we’ve read.

We recently finished The Master Puppeteer, by Katherine Paterson. In it, the main character, Jiro, is about Namine’s age. (This is often the case with her school reading books, given that they’re part of a fifth grader’s curriculum.) Jiro was faced with the choice of whether or not to lie to someone, knowing that to tell the truth would hurt them emotionally. He chose to lie.

As I read, I stole a glance at Namine (as I sometimes do). She was wrinkling her nose in displeasure at Jiro’s decision. Sometimes she’ll stop me to say what’s on her mind or ask a question, but she did not this time. I read on.

After we’d finished the chapter, I asked Namine about her thoughts on the evening’s reading, like I do every night after reading. She responded, “I didn’t like that Jiro lied.”

So I asked, “Isn’t it okay to lie to save someone’s feelings?”

“No, you should always tell the truth. Then say you’re sorry.”

“If you should always tell the truth, why should you apologize?”

“If you hurt someone’s feelings, you should say you’re sorry.”

I’ve written pretty recently on how children lack tact, baldly stating their thoughts or opinions with no regard to others’ feelings. As they grow, they learn to appreciate others’ feelings, but they also learn to disguise the truth — or lie completely — to save those feelings, or to avoid causing offense. It’s clear to me from the evening’s discussion that Namine understands that tact is necessary, but honesty is the more important of the two.

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