Candor is synonymous with truthfulness, honesty, frankness and bluntness. I tend to surf candor as oppose to always deep diving. Why is that? I value candor in specific contexts such as, health care and academics. When the stakes are high then candor feels caring. When the conversation turns to my friend’s new haircut, candor feels narcissistic. I am willing to soften my opinion in order to spare another’s feelings so, I guess that makes me an advocate of the little white lie. Some might argue that I am narcissistic for thinking my opinion holds that much weight. Others may argue that anything but radical candor does not allow for growth or authentic relationship. I think it is a balance – a relational dance that we all engage in. If we are attuned then we may discover our rhythm is different from our partners, friends and co-workers.
Consider candor versus the little white lie and children’s sports teams. For preschool age children, most team activities are not competitive. No one keeps score and “everyone’s a winner.” This team philosophy carries on until the early school age years where children begin to compare themselves to their peers. The preschool bubble bursts as, children figure out they may not be, for example, the fastest. As children age, coaches and parents provide more feedback about the game. The most developmentally appropriate coaches will speak to where the team worked hard and where they could have worked harder. Children need to experience a sense of mastery before being able to process where they might improve.
As a mother, I carefully choose my words. This does not mean that my children do not hear my truth. I simply aim to deliver my truth in a manner they can developmentally digest. Words hold power. What I say as a mother can propel my children forward or cripple their sense of self. In order to be an agent of change, candor needs to be delivered with preparation and caring. Telling a child “the truth” will only help them grow if they are prepared to receive it. I am also careful to consider their truth might be different from my own. Helping my children connect to their own voice is often more powerful then looping and repeating my own truth.
So, when do we utilize a white lie and when do we speak with candor? Words become weapons when fueled by distressing emotions. Candor, even radical candor has a time and place but it is important to remember that, delivery, relationship and self-regulation all matter. If those are not in play then maybe a little white lie is developmentally appropriate.
-Laura MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.