My friend always gets his panties in an uproar when people say the phrase “brutally honest.” He contends that one cannot (simultaneously) be brutal and honest. I was in several situations this past week where brutal honesty was used on me…so I feel compelled to blog on the topic.
First, let me define brutal: barbarous: (of persons or their actions) able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering; disagreeably direct and precise. Now let me define honest: not disposed to cheat or defraud; not deceptive or fraudulent; without dissimulation; frank.
Technically, modification of the word honest is grammatically correct. But can one really be brutally honest? I actually think that someone can be brutally honest. But should they? To be brutally honest, someone would have to be disagreeably direct and precise about their frank, non-deceptive comment. In other words, to be brutally honest is to be frank and rude.
Is it morally correct to be brutally honest? Maybe. With some people, you sometimes have to deliver the truth to someone in a brutal way; you have to eliminate the sugar-coating and get right down to the issue. But it is also wrong to be brutally honest because there is almost always a way to deliver the truth to someone without being barbarous.
Here are some examples of brutal honesty and their alternatives:
- Brutally Honest: “You are fat, and you look peaked!”
- Alternative: “I have recently changes my diet and started exercising…and boy do I feel better!”
- Brutally Honest: “You are lazy!”
- Alternative: “I am soooo tired…do you mind lending me a hand?
There is always an alternative…which usually involves putting the spotlight on yourself as an example…and hoping that your example translates. My final word on the matter? If an occasion presents itself where you have to be brutally honest…then I think it is OK. For example, if someone is threatening themself or doing something stupid, brutal honesty can be a first order wake up call. However, being brutally honest for the sake of being brutal and honest is not acceptable. So yes..I think a person can be brutally honest…the question is whether they should be brutally honest.