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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: A problem with realists, don’t discourage people

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Opinions

I’ve always had a problem with realists. It’s not exactly that I live in a bubble of denial; it’s just that I prefer to see the bright side of most situations.

It’s not that realism is a bad thing. There are, after all, many times when you really need someone to just give you a reality check. Case in point: somebody you know clearly got dressed in the dark and is about to go outside wearing some hideous getup. This is when you might want to tell them they forgot to turn the light on while getting dressed. But in a nice way.

The issue is essentially like the classic “angel/devil” over the shoulder debate. Should you be the nice one and sugarcoat the truth to be a people pleaser, or should you be blunt and say what you want to say?

So many people seem to think it’s all or nothing. But there’s a happy medium that people could and should find. There’s a difference between being realistic and being nasty, and instead of taking the blunt, realist route and potentially being nasty, perhaps the next time we face such a situation we should all consider adding a little bit of sugar to our sour attitudes.

We all need to learn to take criticism; it’s one of life’s many important learning experiences. But criticism doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing; the message is all in the delivery. You could deliver the most insightful, important piece of advice to someone, but if you deliver it in a nasty way that you pass off as realism, people are likely not going to listen to you.

Let’s face it, people like sweet things. They like to add it to their coffee, they like a little piece of chocolate; it just perks us all up. And when there’s not even a sugar substitute around, people don’t function as well. The same thing goes with attitudes.

We run into this issue every day but often don’t think twice about how we interact with others. Take the economy, for instance. Is telling the American public the extent of the damage that’s plaguing our economy the utmost goal, or is telling the public how they can deal with and potentially improve the situation more important?

Such is the dilemma our government currently faces. In this case, shying away from or sugarcoating the truth doesn’t serve any of us in the end because that would only create denial. In other words, we know there’s a disaster out there and you can’t lie to us about it.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider that people are people and as such, they are vulnerable to bad news. Framing the news in a way that gets the point across while still being considerate to the viewer’s feelings is always the best option.

On another note, let’s consider realism as related to the world of academia. If a student makes a mistake, should the professor automatically blurt out “wrong!” or should they say something to the effect of “well, that’s an interesting point of view, but…”?

In my own experience, I’ve always responded kinder to lighter words of criticism and it’s the teachers who’ve made the effort to encourage their students who, I feel, will stick out in all of our minds 20 years from now.

I had a teacher in high school who called all of her students “great one.” She was kind and patient and didn’t sugarcoat anything. She was honest and told us if we were being irrational, but she also understood that we were a group of 17 year olds and that we weren’t going to respond kindly to a dose of reality.

By treating us kindly and encouraging our academic thoughts rather than tell us we were “wrong,” she fostered an environment in which we felt free to express ourselves without fear of judgment.

Though it might not be the professor’s intention, in calling a student out on their mistakes in they essentially embarrass them, if only the tiniest bit.

The same thing goes for friendship and family as well. It even applies to people you randomly meet.

People say that it’s necessary to be a realist and that it prepares you for life in the “real world.” But that doesn’t mean you need to go about it in a way that discourages people.

After all, who can really define what is “real”? Is brutal honesty always the best policy? Perhaps in the end, realism is just evidence of a negative attitude. Maybe it’s the realists who need the reality check.