'No offence, but...' and here's where you cause some offence

When did 'being honest' become an acceptable way to be rude to others?

Chris Stokes@_chris_stokes
Tuesday 06 August 2013 16:53

Honesty is a virtue and widely perceived to be the best policy. So why is it so often misused?

While not exactly an incisive or original observation to point out that sometimes there are people who are rude to others, there is something quite worrying when those people have discovered a way to excuse it by wrapping it up in a deceptive veil which they falsely name 'truth'.

They claim to be honest when under closer inspection they are simply being hurtful and insulting.  These are the sort of people who use, “Let me finish,” to mean, “Stand still while I insult you”. The sort of people who go on 'Come Dine with Me' and wonder why none of their fellow contestants like them when it is clearly because their sage nuggets of hard-hitting wisdom simply amount to deriding the love Graham has for his cat, his only companion since his wife died, and sneering at his bathroom. 'Truth bombs' not worth sheltering from.

Confusing the subjective with the objective is nothing new and, to an extent, we all do it. We value our own opinions and beliefs as being true because we live intimately with them in our heads but most of us know that to aggressively impose them on others is impolite.  Put simply, if the truth you are telling does not need telling then you are being rude.  If it does need telling, then there is still no reason not to consider the manner in which you say it because sometimes even the truth being true is not enough to excuse rudeness.

Of course, being refreshingly honest is an admirable trait and I would never claim to have a problem with being on the receiving end if that honesty is necessary and deployed correctly.  However, more often than not in recent times, all you get is an insult qualified by one or more of the following...

“I just say it how I see it” This does at least acknowledge some subjectivity but it still teems with an unnecessary and unattractive pride, which in turn implies the person saying it relishes the chance to tell a few 'home truths' and assumes that everyone else must know that is how you see it.  Whichever way you qualify it, “Your dress sense makes me want to vomit in your children's hair,” is still a tad impolite.

“I call a spade a spade” This is an analogy people use to boast about their cutting honesty.  Although it can be equally used to highlight how misguided they are being because you would struggle to find anyone who would beat about the bush when describing a spade.  Everyone calls a spade a spade.  What most people do not do is use the calling of a spade a spade to fundamentally hurt that spade's feelings by referring to it as, “A jumped up trowel.”

“No offence, but...” The 'but' here does not mean what the person saying this thinks it means.  They think it means, “But this has to be said,” when it actually means, “But I really want to offend you.” If that were not the case, they would not use such a cursory and dismissive phrase to preface an uncomfortable truth.  Somebody who has no wish to offend when having to tell an uncomfortable truth would be much more delicate. “No offence, but...” is used by people wanting to tell an uncomfortable truth who cannot wait to get to it.

“I tell it like it is” is the one that really screams from the rooftops that whoever is saying it totally believes everyone should hear what they have to say.  It is not an opinion, remember, this is fact.  Those who dispense this quotation with any amount of frequency have failed to grasp that they can only truly tell it like they think it is.  An acquaintance of mine would say it, but then he also thought that submarines had wing mirrors.

“I'm no nonsense.” A moment ago you were verbally abusing a spade.

Chris Stokes Tells It Like It Possibly Could Potentially Might Be, Edinburgh Festival, The Attic, 31st July - 25th August

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