The facts don’t care about your feelings, but we will not regard those who fail to care about our feelings. It is easy to live life like a harsh edge lord, dispensing unpleasant truth to those who are too sensitive to handle it, and to feel that one’s toughness with regards to grim and unpleasant reality makes one superior to those who are unable to handle the brutal truth brutally spoken. Trust me, I speak from experience. Continually in life we have to deal with the twin poles of human existence whose objective reality shapes what we are able to do and what success we are able to attain. On the one hand, there is a grim reality that is at worst hostile or at best indifferent to our feelings and internal subjective reality, but on the other hand our response to other people is largely shaped by that very same subjective internal reality even if we are aware of its subjectivity. These twin poles and their simultaneous pull on the lives of everyone–even cynical edge lords who may largely deceive themselves about how tough they are in the face of hostile and grim reality, including the hostility of others against them precisely because of their approach–dramatically shapes our communication and interaction with others and forces us to consider what it is we want from other people and how we expect them to respond to us.
It has been frequently said by people far more gentle than I am and far more skilled at the subtle arts of charm and persuasion that one must speak the truth to others with kindness, and the wisdom of that saying is in the way that it gently points out these two poles in a subtle fashion. The truth is a nod to objective reality, and the fact that if we wish to influence others we must speak it in kindness is a recognition of the objective reality that human beings are highly motivated by subjective reality and will not generally allow themselves to be positively influenced by those who dismiss their feelings as unimportant. It is not easy to speak the truth in kindness. To be sure, we all want to be treated with kindness, and a great deal of the cynicism that leads to the proliferation of edge lords in the contemporary world is the harsh understanding that people so rarely do care about our feelings, which leads to a hardness that ceases to show concern for the feelings of others. Instead of treating others the way we want to be treated, all too often we treat others as we have been treated. And some of us have been treated so harshly and unkindly that it is monstrous and wicked to treat others the same way in turn.
What is it we want in expressing the truth to someone else? If we wish to confirm our superiority to the person we are interacting with, we need not concern ourselves with politeness or gentleness or tact or anything else of that nature. Expressing one’s superiority is most easily done by choosing the most unkind expression of one’s views as possible, putting the harshest possible construction and showing the most cavalier disregard for the feelings and sensitivities of one’s audience. It can be done fluently with brutal logic that takes every flaw of one’s opponents and rivals–and those flaws will be many–and puts them in their baldest form and takes them to the most ridiculous extreme. One can type such things fluently if one has a mind that is geared to such a brutal recital of unpleasant and unpalatable truths, and one will receive a predictably negative response as a result. Few people–not even those who are most proficient at expressing unpleasant things–like having their words shorn of all human kindness and expressed bluntly and baldly and then ruthlessly skewered and ground into dust. But I tend to think that most people at least, when they interact with others, desire more than simply to show themselves superior to the fools and idiots that they have the unfortunate burden of being forced to unpleasantly interact with, as consoling as that thought can be when one is engaged in online flame wars with other fools and idiots.
If we desire to influence others in a positive direction and to win them over to our way of thinking and living, our task is considerably more delicate and difficult. We may find the way that someone else is behaving to be unpleasant and unacceptable and we may clearly see that someone is on the road to perdition and destruction because of some problem in their lives and behavior that they are simply not addressing. Yet at the same time they may struggle with how to express that in such a way that it will lead to change. As I like to comment on often, because it is so frequently relevant, I took an entire graduate course for a semester on resistance to change and found it to be the single most relevant thing I studied in that entire degree program on Engineering Management. The nearly universal human resistance to change–resistance I must admit I possess in fairly large and sometimes unpleasant quantities–makes any kind of effort to influence others as difficult as finding a path through an unmarked Afghan minefield. We may know how we wish for others to be, and we may even know that someone else desires to be the best that they can be for all of their flaws and shortcomings, but to convey difficult and unpleasant truths in such a way that it will encourage someone to act upon what we have to say and to think about us in a positive fashion is a very difficult matter. Even if we respect and love the people we are trying to change, we know that they will resist change and resent any expression we make of a wish to change them, and so we are frequently torn between our knowledge that being honest and kind is an extremely challenging task. Being aware that the truth only goes so far in shaping how other people think and feel and act does not make it any easier to engage in the delicate and immensely difficult task of seeking to influence others for the good.
After all, if God wanted it would be no difficult thing on his part to blast unworthy sinners from existence. To destroy the wicked would be a trivial task if God set His heart to doing so. The fact that we would all be blasted from existence as a result notwithstanding, it is clear that what God desires of us is that we should repent and change, that we should move from our present fallen and wicked state and develop the habits of righteous thoughts and deeds and the righteous character that He possesses. In God’s working with us we are faced with struggles and difficulties, what God is able to do with us is mediated and influenced by our own ability to recognize His lead and to respond to His desires to shape us according to His will. Even when recognizing that He is the potter and we are the clay, the nature of the clay is not always the same from one person to another or one situation to another. The warp and weave of our nature influences what can be done with us and how we can be shaped. There may be limits to what can be accomplished because some aspect of our nature is so deeply ingrained in us that it cannot easily, or sometimes at all, be smoothed out. And if this is true of God, whose wisdom and power far exceeds our own, it is certainly true of our own efforts to change others into our own image or to shape the institutions and times in which we live. And if the facts do not care about our feelings, may we hope that God and other people do care about such insignificant matters and allow those feelings to shape how they deal with us. And may the feelings of others, as insignificant as they may be to us, shape in turn how we respond and behave towards others, for we are beings whose internal and subjective realities matter far more to us than the brutal and coercive truths that we work so hard to banish from our attention at every available opportunity.