Politeness, Humility & Forthrightness

What is the relationship between politeness, humility and forthrightness?

As a general rule, I value all three, but… there is always a ‘but’… I can’t say I value them equally. I suspect most people would favor one or another, and thus give short shrift to the rest.

Depending on context, I probably would most often emphasize forthrightness. I’m definitely not for superficial politeness, although it is necessary in professional and formal situations. I’m fine with going along to get along in my everyday life, but certain things will trump that.

Maybe I find it easier to balance forthrightness with a certain kind of humility or at least self-deprecation. About many things in my life, I can be fairly lacking in secretiveness and I haven’t tended to have an overabundance of pride.

Whether I’m forthright or not, it usually wouldn’t be an issue of politeness as the deciding factor. But all other things being equal, I prefer basic politeness for the simple reason of not enjoying conflict.

Particular things, however, can aggravate me in such a way that I feel disinclined to back down, sometimes because of a principle and at other times because of plain irritableness. I’ll (humbly) admit that my depressive personality can make me not perfectly friendly and kind more often than I’d prefer. I have a bad habit of treating people rudely who treat me rudely, especially online. I don’t have much patience for trolls or for troll-like behavior. I also can’t stand willful ignorance, but unwillful varieies of uninformed people don’t directly annoy me.

I won’t suffer fools when they force their foolishness on me. And I try not to force my personal issues onto others. No one is perfect. I’m fine with imperfection as that is the normal state of humanity. This is where my basic sense of humility comes in, humility tinged with an element of empathy. The difficlty is that not everyone shares this attitude.

I’d love to live in a world where empathy was the normal way of relating. In my experience, mutual respect more has to do with empathy than with politeness. I’d put empathy at the root of many worthy values: humility, compassion, understanding, etc. I’d also add my valuing truth in terms of basic honesty, a close cousin of forthrightness. Empathy helps one to consider honesty as it impacts others, transforming mere verbal truthfulness into a more profound sincerity.

I can’t emphasize enough how closely my valuing of truth relates to my sense of empathy. I don’t always overtly express my empathy, but it is always there in the background. I care about truth for very human reasons. Lies and ignorance aren’t harmless things. Truth-seeking, and when necessary truth-declaring, are what gives morality force in the world, the only force that can challenge the physical kinds of force.

This is why forthrightness can matter so much, even when it might be perceived as rudeness. I will never back down when it comes to important issues of truth. It is about the only thing I will get righteous about.

6 thoughts on “Politeness, Humility & Forthrightness

  1. I sure wish there were more in the world with this wisdom, with which I completely align:

    Empathy helps one to consider honesty as it impacts others, transforming mere verbal truthfulness into a more profound sincerity.

    I can’t emphasize enough how closely my valuing of truth relates to my sense of empathy. I don’t always overtly express my empathy, but it is always there in the background. I care about truth for very human reasons. Lies and ignorance aren’t harmless things. Truth-seeking, and when necessary truth-declaring, are what gives morality force in the world, the only force that can challenge the physical kinds of force.

    This is why forthrightness can matter so much, even when it might be perceived as rudeness. I will never back down when it comes to important issues of truth. It is about the only thing I will get righteous about.

    • There was an inspiration to my post.

      I was interacting with some people. One person and I were in agreement while the rest attacked us with typical right-wing rhetoric (the kind one hears from Limbaugh, Beck and Coulter). It was a fairly typical online interaction.

      I was being my normal forthright self. This included humility in various ways such as mentioning some of my weaknesses and admitting that I don’t know everything. My ‘opponents’ saw this as blood in the water. It was mostly silliness that ensued.

      I felt irritable and short on patience. All I wanted to do was clarify the actual issue, politeness be damned. So, my forthrightness also had a bit of an edge to it, not exactly measured calm and compassion.

      The other person who agreed with me, however, was trying to be polite. It wasn’t getting him anywhere, but he wasn’t giving up. The problem was his politeness was allowing the others to lead him around by the nose and he was being led in circles.

      I refuse to play such games, especially when simple issues of truth are on the line. In such situations, I’m going to be forthright with both my emotions and my opinions. But ultimately I just want to get to the point.

      My precise methods don’t necessarily matter. What does matter is that I brought the focus back to the issue of what was true and what was not. I stopped them from leading this guy around in circles. I basically told them to shit or get off the pot. So, they got off the pot and the discussion was ended. Without my intervention, it was the type of mindless, truth-dismissing prattle that could go on for weeks.

      Why be polite to those who are being dishonest? I’d rather just call a spade a spade and end the game-playing.

      All I care about is this: Was my method, as the Buddhists say, useful means? Well, in defending truth, it ended that particular attack on truth and brought the focus back to the truth at hand. So, the means in question was useful in achieving my desired end. That is all I can ask for in life.

      To me, defense of truth trumps all else. Anything (politeness, humility, forthrightness, etc) is only moraly good to the degree it serves truth. Imperfect as I am, I try to act on my best intentions. I realize, in this situation, I didn’t act in the best possible way that is humanly possible. Still, I acted the best that I felt able in that moment.

      I don’t know how well I end up defending truth, but I will always try to do so. That is the sincerity I have to offer the world.

      • AHA!!!! Good for me, I evoked something even more interesting than the original blog post!!!!!
        I find myself quite in alignment with your values and approaches!!! It all highlights why I value your presence in the world so highly!!
        Seeking something to quibble with, I might ask how humility is only morally good if it “serves truth.” To me, humility IS a kind of truth, or recognition of a truth and is an end in itself within that framework. It is not something one abandons as a strategy in pursuit of some other truth, which is the implication I read in your wording.
        Politeness and forthrightness, however, THOSE are not ends in themselves, in the same way, and I agree can be and probably should be modified strategically in service of other values. .

        • As a value, my use of the word ‘truth’ is a shorthand way of referring to a complex attitude, a framework for relating and acting. Truth, as such, is more of a process than an end.

          I like to use the word ‘truth’ because it has punch to it. Truth is a living thing, maybe even a spiritual force in some sense. I don’t choose to serve truth. It’s simply what is in me to serve. To deny truth would be like denying my soul. Obviously, I’m not using that word in the conventional sense.

          I would add that none of this is to say that my personal sense of truth is more important or worthy than your sense of humility or whatever else. It’s just what drives me, what gives me meaning and purpose. In that way, it has become my lense of interpretation… but it allows an openness to an even broader sense of truth. There is a truth in everything.

          • How utterly enchanting to read your thoughts which I share so significantly, and which so rarely get articulated. I love all the distinctions you made, especially:

            “I don’t choose to serve truth. It’s simply what is in me to serve!”

            And that truth is a process, not an end. That is SO hard for people to “get.”

            With respect to

            “I would add that none of this is to say that my personal sense of truth is more important or worthy than your sense of humility or whatever else. ”

            I wouldn’t even have made a comparison, it is apples and oranges, LOL!

            Mmmm thanks, Ben, that reply comment made my day, even my week!!!!!

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