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Shannon Casas: When it comes to honesty, what's helpful and what's harmful?
Shannon Casas high res

It has come to my attention that there are at least a few of y’all who read this column. And at least some of you appreciate my honesty.

I’m not quite sure whether you’re being honest about that, but in any case, I can’t promise you’ll always appreciate my honesty.

I was turning 5 years old when my best friend gave me a box of crayons for my birthday. I sat at a table at Chuck E. Cheese opening that gift and said, “Oh, I already have a lot of these.” It was honest. And she probably didn’t appreciate it. And I know my mother didn’t appreciate it.

Honesty may be the best policy, but I can be honest to a fault. I’m still not particularly good at politely receiving gifts I don’t like. If you buy me an ugly shirt, I know better than to tell you I hate it, but my face will probably give me away.

Fake smiles are not my forte.

If something is bothering me, you’ll probably know it. Whether I’m struggling to handle my emotions after a child lashed out at me or I am frustrated by an error in the paper, I’m not good at holding back.  

Venting to those within earshot may include my honest thoughts, but that’s not exactly a good thing. On more than one occasion I’ve looked at the paper, seen some stupid mistake, yelled and thrown it on the floor; with any luck it’s early in the day and there’s no one within earshot.

Truth must be balanced with the harm it may cause.

Yelling in my office is one thing. Yelling at an employee is another. Whether there’s truth in my words or not, I don’t believe things are ever best received at high volumes — unless you’re talking about rock music.

But truth does usually need to be expressed in some way. It’s harmful to allow people to go on about their day having no idea there’s spinach in their teeth or that they spelled the governor’s name wrong in a headline (that’s an imaginary example, just in case you’re wondering).

But there’s something about Southern culture, especially among women, that seems to demand holding back and being polite over truthful.

Country singer Miranda Lambert knows what I’m talking about.

“Powder your nose, paint your toes, line your lips and keep 'em closed/Cross your legs, dot your I's and never let 'em see you cry.”

Of course you can’t enter into meaningful relationship with anyone if you’re covering up everything real.

I don’t like being on the receiving end of harsh truth, but I think I’ll take that over politeness solely for politeness sake. I hate learning weeks later that someone felt a certain way about something I did but never said anything. I’d rather hear the criticism and figure out how to move forward.

Sometimes there are reasons things can’t be said. Not everyone needs to know about everyone else’s business, but my natural inclination is to lay everything on the table and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s certainly not always possible in my position as editor. And it’s even less possible in my position as a foster parent.

So, I’m trying to learn when honesty is helpful and when it is harmful. But sometimes what’s helpful still hurts a bit.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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