Dear Rachel,

I seem to put people’s backs up because I don’t play games. I speak my truth directly and straightforwardly. I don’t like lies of any color, and I find diplomacy is another name for not being a straight shooter. Do I really have to flatter, be disingenuous and dissemble in order to get along with people? Why can’t I just be honest and tell the truth?

Honesty Is Such a Lonely Word

Dear Honest,

Judaism is a big advocate of honesty. The Torah tells us to distance ourselves from a false word,1 to stay far away from misrepresentation of any form. There is a story of a rabbi who signed a letter “Tearfully yours” and waited until he in fact cried before signing his name.

Honesty is a very important attribute. And yet, there is one proviso: We are allowed, even encouraged, to lie in order to keep the peace.

When Aaron the High Priest died, he was mourned to an even greater extent than his brother Moses was. Why? Because Moses was the epitome of truth and honesty, while Aaron was a pursuer of peace. If Reuven and Shimon were fighting, he would go to Reuven and tell him that he knew Shimon wanted to make peace but was too embarrassed to approach him. Then he’d go and tell the same thing to Shimon. And the next time these two people met, they inevitably made up.

Though Aaron wasn’t being strictly truthful, he believed that deep down, people really wanted peace. And he knew that in order to attain peace, it is permissible to stretch the truth a little bit.

So as important as honesty is, it’s not honesty at any price. Certainly not brutal honesty.

With that in mind, if you feel that it’s important or helpful to share your truth with others, here is what I would suggest:

1. Speak softly and gently. People are sensitive, insecure and have egos the size of Malta. So it’s best to follow the advice of King Solomon, the wisest of all men, who said: “The gentle words of the wise are heard above the shouts of a king over fools.”2 No one wants to listen to the truth if it’s unpleasant, especially if it’s unpleasantly said. So adopt a relaxed stance, lower your voice and smile. Take the edge off your words and tone. Say what you want to say, but gently and without strong emotion. Use words like “It seems to me” or “I feel.” The voice of truth doesn’t have to yell; it can be whispered to be heard.

2. Listen to others, even if you don’t agree. The Torah has “70 faces”—70 different ways of interpreting its truth. So when you say you just want to “be honest and and tell the truth,” realize that your truth may not be true for someone else. Let others have their say and be open to their perspectives. And people who feel listened to are more inclined to listen to you.

3. Make peace your primary objective. Even if you feel that you are objectively in the right, accept the fact that not everyone will see things as you do. Be respectful of others, whether or not they agree with you. And you’ll also become a more successful advocate of truth because you’ll become more credible.

4. Be sure that in your search for truth, you’re advancing G‑d’s agenda, not your own. People sometimes believe they are doing G‑d’s will by clinging tightly to their beliefs, even if it hurts others. By following the above suggestions, you will be honoring G‑d and honoring yourself by staying true to your Divine image.

Wishing you all the best, honestly,