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There is a Quaker phrase that describes a combination of honesty and equality in our dealings with others... an ability to treat all others equally, without pretensions. The phrase is "plain speech".

We tend to think of honesty as not cheating on our income tax, or not stealing pens from work. But the real need in the world is for people to know the truth about themselves, i.e. to be able to peel away the various masks that have almost become a part of our faces, and to deal with all the inconsistencies that have resulted because of them. The way to do this is through plain speech.

It is sad to observe the extent to which self-deception has become a part of our lives... not to mention all the deception of others that just naturally goes along with it. "Polite" society rarely says what it is really thinking. Any time the truth threatens to become even the least bit uncomfortable, we package it up in cotton wool and say things that mean almost (if not literally) the opposite.

How many times, for instance, have we said, "I'll get back to you," when we had no intentions of doing that? It's so much easier than saying, "Your price is too high; I think I can do better elsewhere," or "I really am not interested in what you have to offer."

Insincere invitations, insincere apologies, insincere compliments, insincere interest in what someone is saying all lead to confusion for the people whose feelings we are supposedly protecting; and such insincerity also leads to endless grumbling about others behind their backs.

So much of what Jesus taught was an attempt to get people to walk in the light, by facing the truth about themselves. He wanted people to break free from traditions, unreal self-images, false concepts of respectability, and unnecessary cultural taboos long enough to discover what was really happening around them. He said that if we would continue in his teachings, we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free. (John 8:32)

Yet today, we hear people everywhere saying - not only with their words, but with every fibre of their being - "I don't want to think about that particular truth; I don't feel comfortable with such thoughts; Don't confront me with those facts." And each time they do, they create more blind spots, until the blind spots start running into one another.

No wonder that Jesus called the respectable religious world of his day "blind leaders of the blind". He said that their blindness resulted from their unwillingness to admit that they were blind in the first place. In their effort to convince others that they were something that they were not, they actually created the condition that they most feared. People can, for example, literally go crazy trying to pretend that they are sane.

If only we would confess our sins, our fears, our disagreements, our delusions, our weaknesses, etc., we could be "cleansed from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

But the nearest that most of us get to such a confession is to make some vague statement about the fact that "we're all sinners" and then to shrug off any personal responsibility or any need to change. So we continue to lie to ourselves, and as a result, we become even more blind. It all seems to be a part of the "don't judge" ethic of today's world. We get this huge backlog of unresolved guilt as a result, and it is all going to have to come out somewhere, some day.

Plain speech is at the core of the grievance system that Jesus established in Matthew 18:15-17. You confront your brother or sister with a disagreement, and you attempt to resolve it... even if the resolution turns out to be some kind of a compromise. Plain speech defuses the tension. Refuse to do this, and you start down a path of two-faced deception, characterised by catty remarks, double-meanings, sarcasm, and outright lies. In such a world, each person becomes their own judges of what is truth, and the rules can totally change at a moment's notice. There is no accountability, because there are no standards.

But how does one use plain speech in a world where no one wants to hear the truth? We have often taught that "if you cannot be honest, at least try to be honest about your dishonesty". In the same way, when we cannot use plain speech with someone, let us at least be honest with ourselves about the fact that we are not being totally honest with the other person; and let us look forward to the day when we can be.

By temporarily or partially playing the game with those who insist on covering their true feelings, we may succeed in keeping the door open to honest dialogue with them at some time in the future. But we should also be aware that, until honest dialogue is reached, the relationship is going to be tentative at best.

One paradox about un-plain speech is that the people using it often succeed in convincing themselves that all of the masks are reality, that they are not secretly holding grudges, that they are not secretly murmuring against others, and that others are not secretly murmuring against them. So when they discover that someone has said something about them that is not as complimentary as what has been said to their faces, they take great offence and often discard the relationship.

That is why we say that relationships based primarily on a "polite" front are tentative. Such relationships cannot withstand the truth that they do not want to hear. If your true feelings are found out, the friendship will end.

There are many Proverbs about criticisms from friends being more beneficial than flattery from enemies; and Paul wrote in one of his epistles that we should speak the truth to one another in love. (Ephesians 4:15) They are both talking about plain speech. But precious few people ever take these teachings seriously. Until they do, of course, they will remain blind.

It is our responsibility, as those who walk in the Light, to do whatever we can to push back the boundaries of that darkness, inch by inch, through plain speech ourselves.

One final reminder: Remember that none of us has perfect understanding of the truth. Our efforts to resolve differences will almost always require a certain amount of compromise. It is not dishonest to give someone the benefit of the doubt in a disagreement, or to agree to disagree. "Plain speech" does not necessarily mean dumping all your negative feelings onto others. Many of those tensions you will need to resolve within yourself... before you can constructively communicate your concerns with others.

(See also When Relations Break Down.)

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