Family & Kids

Speak the truth subtly

In 2010, I was diagnosed with a very rare kind of blood cancer. The oncologist, Dr Clair Godfrey, who broke the news was my father's friend at the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital, London. He was in a fix as to how to break the dreadful news to me. He chose to e-mail me rather than broach the delicate subject in person. That e-mail is still in my folder and I've saved it carefully because it stated the truth so subtly and wisely. I'm quoting it verbatim: 

Dear Sumit,

Disease and destiny have a secret modus operandi. Both have a habit of catching you unawares. Yet the indomitable human spirit overcomes all adversities. Well, without beating around the bush, I'm sure that you must have had a hint that your apprehension has come true. But just don't brood over it. Remember, the big C is NOT invincible. One can defeat it and many have already vanquished it. All the best.....................Yours sincerely, Dr Godfrey.

Nowhere in his mail, did he clearly mention that I was afflicted with cancer. But I got the insinuation and it sank in relatively fast, thanks to his succinct, subtle and encouraging mail. This is how truth must be conveyed: subtly and succinctly. It must be conveyed in a manner that it doesn't unnerve or disconcert the receiver. There's a famous Sanskrit maxim, 'Satyam bruyaat, priyam bruyaat (na bruyaat satyampriyam): If you must speak the truth, see to it that you speak it in a manner that it's not unpalatable to the other person. Undiplomatic and tactless expression of truth must always be avoided at any cost. Euphemisms in all languages are ample proofs that truth needs to be stated in a very polite and roundabout manner, bereft of any harshness and in-your-face candour.

Thanks to Dr Godfrey's subtle way of letting me know that I had cancer, I'm still alive. Had he broken the news in a matter-of-fact manner, I would have lost all zeal for living and wouldn't have been able to write this piece, celebrating whatever little life I'm left with.

Never forget the wise words of JFK, 'An unvarnished truth can kill. Therefore, a little varnish on it is a big deal.' Yes, in such dire circumstances, varnish is an apt tool. Like the Chinese say, better a lie that soothes than a truth that wounds. Social intercourse expects us to be subtle; subtle in all interactions of life. Speak the truth, but speak it softly and subtly is the mantra of life. Furthermore, a veiled and varnished truth worms into a receiver's consciousness more easily than a straightforward truth. It's always better to say, he couldn't succeed this time instead of he has lost. The word 'Loss' is a truth. It's a fact, rather an axiom. But it unnerves. What disturbs must never be uttered and what causes to lose mental equilibrium, should be eschewed. One must remember the sage advice that truth is discomforting to both, speaker as well as the receiver.  

Leo Tolstoy wrote in the preface to his masterpiece, 'War and peace,' 'Human life is a mosaic of interactive bonds. Make it more cordial by diluting the nakedness of truth and present it in a pleasant manner. Peace can be brought about only by diluting the truth and taking away its sting.' So very true. 

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