Can I be honest?
Why are you suddenly looking worried? There, you see, just because I said, "Can I be honest?" you automatically assume I'm about to say something negative; or at least something you think I think you won't like.
Don't you find that fascinating? If you notice - people never ask you that and then follow it up with a compliment. They never say, "Can I be honest? I love your jumper" or "can I be honest? You're a wonderful writer". It's always, "Can I be honest? You don't look good in that jumper" or "Can I be honest? I think you should cut this whole chapter".
You hear that self-righteous little question, and you just know you're in for a punch in the stomach. What makes it worse, is that they take it for granted that that virtuous little word 'honest' gives them the right to start verbally kicking you. They bulldozer over your dreams and any remaining vestiges of your self-confidence but, hey, they're being honest - as if that's supposed to be some kind of comfort to you. And you don't even have the right to object because, as we've all been taught, honesty is a good thing. Always.
Naturally you cannot disagree with their opinion because they've all got that same answer ready, on cue: "You just don't want to face the truth."
The truth. What a great excuse. They should patent it.
Imagine this. Your sister (for argument's sake) and her husband take you out for a meal on your birthday, to this restaurant you like. As soon as you sit down, you ask, as one does, "So, how's life?"
Your sister doesn't miss a beat. "We're so broke. There's the new uniform for Tim, and the loft conversion has set us back a lot more than we'd budgeted for."
That makes you feel guilty for choosing this expensive restaurant, so you suggest going down the road for a pizza, or something.
"Oh, no, darling," she says. We must celebrate your birthday properly."
"But you just said you're broke."
"Oh, never mind that! I'm just telling you the truth because you're my sister."
So you're sitting there, staring at the menu, trying to pick out the cheapest dish, when she says, "Actually, it's also a very important date for Ben, too."
She gives his hand an adoring squeeze. You look up at your brother-in-law, and he says, eyes all moist, "That's right. Fifteen years ago today, my dad died of cancer."
For a moment, you feel guilty. How inconsiderate of you to be born on that particular date. Although, thinking about it, you were born a good quarter of century before this particular tragic event. Should you resent your brother-in-law's father, instead? Guilt? Resentment? Which one? You decide to resent your sister.
Now please be honest - how are you supposed to enjoy your birthday dinner after that? Do you really want this much honesty?
Personally, I want a T-shirt, which says, "No to honesty. Yes to consideration".
So this is my new policy. Whenever someone makes that holier-than-thou face and asks in that pontificating tone, "Can I be honest?" I reply, "No".
You should see how that stumps them.