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On Brutal Truth

There has been no shortage of discussions around recent comments and articles written in the wake of the tragic suicide of actor Robin Williams. From Rush Limbaugh to Matt Walsh, there’s obviously a lot of emotions built into agreement or disagreement with one another on the question of suicide.

In light of this, it would be hard to deny that suicide is something that affects a great deal of Americans.

But, it’s important to speak the truth, even about something as touchy as suicide or as personal as depression. There are certain aspects of it that have to be discussed and put out in the open. The danger of not doing so could be greater than the danger of upsetting a few people on the internet.

But at some point, conservatives and Christians seem to have decided that there needs to be a brutal aspect of this truth in order to truly be of service.

To me, this is the great error in our messaging and has resulted in a party and an ideology that is looked at as the opposite of empathetic or compassionate. Whether or not that description is fair, it’s where we are and frankly, it’s this addiction to “brutal truth” that has caused it.

From an article I wrote last year on this topic:

Often, the response to that concern is something along the lines of “truth is truth.” True enough, but the brutality of truth is not the only way to convince someone or to make a point. Certainly there are times when brutal truth is the answer, but it is foolish of us to make it our default position. No matter how much you believe that Mitt Romney was correct in his statement about the 47% of American “takers,” he won over no hearts, changed no minds, and impacted no votes with the way he said this. He had a 69% likability deficit and lost the election. Don’t tell me they aren’t connected.

But, in spite of our continual reputation of callousness and the negative impact it has on our ability to articulate our arguments (much less explain how what we want is ultimately for good) we still seem to relish the opportunity to smack those in pain across the face with our righteous truth. So those we wish to impact are left with two choices: the party that doesn’t care, and the party that does. The falseness of this dichotomy is irrelevant as for many uninformed voters, this is all they need to hear.

To put it briefly, are we concerned about making sure people know we’re right? Or do we want them to agree with us? Because in my experience the latter is far more important. One may think that’s obvious but in practice we far too often seem to choose the former.

“Are we concerned about making sure people know we’re right? Or do we want them to agree with us?”

The suicide conversation is a perfect example of this. As many noted, suicide can be an incredibly selfish act which leaves survivors damaged and in pain for the rest of their lives. It is often the last action of someone with a feeling of hopelessness and family and friends become the victims, wishing they’d done more and becoming crippled with guilt. As was controversially noted, it’s not freeing. It is the opposite of freeing. It is giving up and it is always tragic.

But, and I know people hate hearing this, there are ways to discuss this, to express that truth, and to not turn people away from that truth. Very simply it’s a matter of speaking from a position of hope & salvation, as opposed to condemnation and judgment.

As an experiment, I’ll provide two sentences that express the same truth to highlight the difference. For fun, we’ll pretend the person this truth is being spoken to is a child.

Sentence 1: “If you cross that busy street you could be crushed by a car.”

Sentence 2: “It is not safe to cross that street because the cars could hurt very badly.”

Which one do you tell your kid? I think the instinct of too many on our side is “Sentence 1! The child needs to understand how dire the consequences are!!”

My guess is that those people either don’t have kids or just haven’t run into this issue. On the other hand, I have.

My daughter sleeps with a fan every night. At some point it was mentioned to her that you need to leave a space between the back of the fan and the wall to allow for the appropriate flow of air. It was then further noted that not doing so could lead to a fire that would burn the house down. And while that is true, she was more than ready to do the right thing without the additional information and so is now constantly and irrationally afraid that she’s going to burn our house down.

This didn’t help her become a more responsible person. It just scared the wits out of her and created a new problem.

Of course this is also true of Christianity. The dangers and truth of Hell are something to be afraid of, there’s little doubt. But I can’t count how many people have walked away from God because their experiences with pastors mostly revolved around fire and brimstone.

We can’t be so obsessed with the brutality of truth that the words we choose prevent people from hearing it.

As conservatives this is also true. Our job is to create allies, not smack people around that are wrong with truth that is so brutal that we make them hate us. Our goal is to convince people. Not to “be right.”

If we can wrap our heads around that as a party, we might start convincing people to join us. If we can wrap our heads around that as Christians, we might just speak the language someone needed to hear before they decided to take that final, awful step into oblivion.

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