Janet Sheridan: Go ahead, let me have it
January 22, 2010
I want realistic predictions from others, not false optimism. I'm unhappy when anticipated rosy outcomes yield to unpleasant actuality.
Why did the doctor promise, "This won't hurt at all," before forcing a needle the size of a turkey baster into my resisting flesh? I yelped, shot accusatory glances and felt momentary hatred.
His well-intended deception didn't allow me to act my age. At 67, that's embarrassing.
Cookbook authors should acknowledge that making a soufflé is a bit tricky, rather than describing the recipe as foolproof. Does a sunken, inedible product mean I'm a fool?
If my dermatologist had mentioned, before a "minor treatment with no side effects," that a huge scab would adorn my nose for most of a month, I wouldn't have gone to my class reunion with Mount Vesuvius on my face.
I am not alone in dealing with hard truths better than with platitudes parading as motivation. As a teacher, I saw students react with persistence and confidence when told a new learning would be complex, requiring work and practice for mastery.
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In contrast, when assured the lesson would be easy, everyone would get it in no time, and many displayed frustration and wanted to quit when they ran into difficulties.
As a fledgling staff developer, I once promised participants in my adult workshop that we would finish by 4 p.m., probably sooner, and then kept them until 4:13 p.m. It was the only time in my 40 years as an educator I felt endangered.
Most of us can stand anything if told in advance what to expect. The truth allows us to handle problematic circumstances with dignity. This is evident on delayed airplanes.
When people are stuffed on a plane and stranded on the runway for 40 minutes without any explanation, they begin to exhibit the behavior of caged animals: snarling, pacing, glaring. Children cry; couples bicker; belligerence balloons.
Yet I've waited with passengers on a packed flight for 100 minutes, with no breaches of civility, because the pilot talked to us at regular intervals. He described the problem with the cargo door, updated us on the process of fixing it and apologized for the uncomfortable wait. Some mumbling, sighing and impatient shuffling occurred in the crowded cabin, but calm acceptance, if not good humor, reigned.
If I do encounter honesty about difficult circumstances, I'm appreciative. When a sign along Interstate 70 advises me it will take 40 minutes to reach Denver, I don't fume at the slow traffic; rather, I'm delighted when we arrive in 38.
In airports, I'm less anxious standing in a line that wends forever when posted signs tell me it will take 10 minutes to clear security from where I am. That knowledge helps me decide if a quick shuffle will get me to my gate on time, or if I must abandon all dignity and gallop.
I recently endured the discomfitures of a colonoscopy. I appreciated the health care professional who described the escalating unpleasantness of the night-before preparations. Her explanation allowed me to think, "Well, this isn't so bad after all," rather than, "This is awful. Something must be wrong. This can't be what was supposed to happen."
I don't want to be soothed with snake-oiled promises. I want the truth.
I want to feel either relief when I weather the storm more easily than I anticipated or composed acceptance when it's as bad as I was warned.