Outside Garfunkels?

Recently I was sitting in a branch of Pret a Manger on the Strand in London. It wasn’t busy, so despite the fact I was engrossed in the book I was reading I couldn’t help overhearing one side of a telephone conversation, the speaker sitting at a table near me, by the window.

“Well, how long are you going to be? OK, don’t be too long. I’m standing outside Garfunkels, I’ll just stay here till you arrive.”

He wasn’t standing outside Garfunkels, he was sitting comfortably inside Pret. But as Garfunkels is right next door, he was able to see the place where he was supposedly standing, presumably thinking that as soon as he saw the relevant person approach, he would nip out and meet him or her. He stayed warm and comfortable and the meeting could take place as arranged.

I wonder what you think about this? First I was amused by what I had heard and observed, then I started to think. How often am I ‘standing outside Garfunkels’? How often do I decide that a slight, apparently harmless, distortion of the truth is appropriate?

I have many faults but I wouldn’t generally think of being dishonest as one of them. However, when I reflect on this, I am frequently guilty of evasions: for example, telling a close friend of a worry or concern, then directly afterwards telling someone else that I am “Really well, thank you,” when they ask how I am; or of giving an impression I am more effective than I am.

There is a purpose to this, of course. Doubtless the man who wasn’t standing outside Garfunkels had a reason for not stating his true position. When I choose to say I am really well, when I am actually feeling ‘under the weather’ in some way, I am simply adhering to the social niceties of the polite exchange so as not to make the other party feel uncomfortable. When I give the impression of effectiveness, it is to avoid obfuscating my message that effectiveness is attainable.

That may all be fine, if those are the reasons. But as I reflect on my own tendency to evade, I realise that all too often it is due not to a consideration of others’ intentions or benefit, but to a desire to appear ‘better’ in some way than I am. I want people to think that I am well, positive, effective and therefore not see that, in truth, a lot of the time I’m a bit of a mess.

I’m feeling unfit and sluggish after festive excesses yet that didn’t stop me buying chocolate. I played Mahjong on my laptop  when I should have been working. I’m not nearly as on top of my business admin as I should be and my house is a tip. I get irritated when people don’t do what I would do in their position. As I say, a bit of a mess.

And yet that, too, is only part of the story. If I’m going to be really honest, I must also say that I chose to eat fruit for breakfast and walk for forty minutes instead of taking the bus. That my business admin is in the process of getting into shape and I have allocated some time – well before tardiness becomes a problem – to sort it out. That I made time to wash up and clean the bathroom before I left the house. That I forgave without thinking the person who got lost and came late to a training session I was running, despite the fact I generally try to leave too much time to arrive somewhere new so as to allow for such an eventuality.

I think the point I’m making is this: whatever I might believe about having reasons to avoid total honesty with others, there is never any justification for me trying to deceive myself. If I tell myself I’m fine when I’m not, I will never seek to make changes. If I believe that I’m irredeemably flawed, I will quickly sink into despair. The truth – that I’m a messed up mixture of great and ghastly – allows me to hold the power to choose.  I was irritated by someone yesterday, but that doesn’t stop me being forgiving today. Yesterday I ate badly and took the bus, today I made different choices.

I would venture to add something else. Being truly honest with myself allows me the freedom to be gentle, to take one choice at a time, to acknowledge that an unhelpful choice yesterday doesn’t preclude the possibility of a helpful choice today. So what might fostering relationships based on true honesty provide, where I allow others the space to make a mistake one day and yet be gloriously splendid the next? How much more gentle might we each become with each other? And if I know that I can be honest with someone about my failings, without fear of rejection or ridicule, then how much richer will that relationship be than one where I am constantly guarded? How much more forgiving and accepting will I be of someone who accepts and forgives me?

Are you standing outside Garfunkels?





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