Türchen 10: Can you be blunt or not?


Blunt: uncompromisingly forthright. But it could also mean undiplomatic. Undiplomatic, like Trump. I personally see myself as being blunt at times. At other times I’m really diplomatic. So I’m nothing like Trump. But still, with all of the noise on #meToo and sexual harassment, the question could be raised whether being blunt is a smart thing. Should I be honest or should I be careful?

Growing up in Amsterdam

Being blunt is perhaps a cultural thing: I’m Dutch and the Dutch are famous for being frank. We are forthright, sometimes to the point that it becomes uncompromisingly forthright. That’s perhaps why we resort talking about the weather a lot.

I grew up in Amsterdam. And while some have memories of Amsterdam being a wonderful place to grow up in, I saw the rough side. I was beaten up on the street repeatedly, got 12 bicycles stolen and had bad trips occassionally. And I had a couple of best friends that made me grow up: When I was bullied in the early years of high school, they stepped back and said to me that if I wanted it to stop, I needed to step up. And so I did. For me, Amsterdam is about stepping up, confronting the things you don’t like. And in the Netherlands, people from Amsterdam are known for their frankness. Hello world.

The dark side of Jisse

Honestly, I’m a nice guy. But I can be blunt as well. Jeroen Boersma mentioned this to me lately, by pointing out that he didn’t know I had these rough edges – not bad, just interesting. I don’t try to cover it up necessarily, but I simply try to see the bluntness as a tool: Sometimes it fits the need, sometimes it doesn’t. I got into trouble in the past when I was blunt when I shouldn’t have (hence the beating up on the street). And I got into trouble in the past while not being blunt when I should have been (no comments). Being honest is good at times. Speaking your mind is good at times. Shutting up is also good at times.

My dark side came out a bit more with MageTestFest: The opening involved swearing (What The Fuck = WTF = MTF = MageTestFest), there was metal music and the banners showed phrases like No More Fuckups. I had fun in creating all that. But I also got feedback that it might be offensive to some. And that’s the part that intrigues me.

Consequence of blunt

The consequence of blunt is that you sometimes say something that might offend somebody else. However, my golden rule has always been to not only listen to the words that somebody utters, but to listen to the intention as well. You can swear at somebody and offend that person, or you can swear jokingly. It’s the intention that counts and therefore you need to take in the look in somebody’s eye as well, the posture, the whole picture.

Speaking your heart shows honesty. It shows the will of communicating without politics being in the way. But it might also be that this will offend people along the way. This can happen. However, we also know that people get hurt when things are not honest. Or when nice words convey the real purpose, up to the point that it becomes fake. For instance, Trump talks about world peace but actually works really hard on blowing up the world – if not via North Korea than via the Middle East. So far for the Christmas message.

Bluntness with softness

My mother has taught me a new word lately: gentleness. Whenever things get tough, be gentle. Gentle in heart when communicating with others, gentleness towards yourself. And you can be blunt, while still being gentle.

This is my new approach: Help people by being direct and honest, but still taking into account that they might need more time to respond. Or that I need to elaborate a bit more my bluntness. On the other hand, it is sometimes good to create a stir, shake things up – and bluntness can be a tool for that too.

Back to #meToo

Back to the #meToo discussion. I think bluntness has been one of the main sources of evil: Some people speak out loud what they think without considering that it might hurt others. This is about the locker room talk, that should actually not be uttered, not even the locker room. Even worse, some people (men) abused their power to exploit others.

This of course has nothing to do anymore about being blunt. It has to do with being inconsiderate, antisocial, egoistic. But maybe the thing is that those people that are now accused of sexual abuse actually did not think of themselves being inconsiderate or antisocial, perhaps they see themselves as being … blunt. God, I hate this Trump guy, because I believe he is the best example of this.

Hurting another

There is a fine line between being blunt while not hurting others and being blunt while hurting others. And I think that you can’t be blunt while not hurting others if you are not empathic. If you lack empathy, being blunt is about the same as being offensive to someone.

However, if you handle with empathy in heart, you know how to place yourself in the shoes of somebody else, knowing that bluntness sometimes is simply a bad idea. You know how to explain your direct approach, soften your reaction to others. I think empathy is the keyword here – it is applying softness to the relationship with others.

Be blunt back

Bluntness plays a role on the other side of the coin as well. Let’s assume that the people that have hurt others (focusing on the #meToo discussion only here) simply lack empathy. They are committing their “crimes” simply because they lack the insight to see what their own actions and words are doing to others.

It could be that there is a chemical missing, it could be that they are simply evil. Either way, it means these people lack the insight to stop themselves from hurting others. If they would have had the right insight, they would not have acted wrongly. The only way that they get the message that they are hurting others, is by telling them that. As simple as that. We need to take action for them to take action.

Big up yourself

When I got bullied in the past, my friends didn’t want to stand up for me: They wanted me to stand up for myself. As soon as I stood up, I was able to defend myself: Bullies don’t like defensiveness.

So the message here – if you are being bullied, or sexually harassed, or finding yourself in any kind of threatening situation – is: Be on the offence. And if you can’t defend yourself directly, find others that could support you and be blunt with them.

Involve others

This is the reason why a Code of Conduct is there in place at more and more conferences. This is why it is a good idea to speak out once you have the feeling that you are being oppressed in any way. Be blunt. Not to hurt the person that is hurting you, but to make sure it stops.

Can you be blunt?

Yes, you can. Just make sure you can criticize yourself. And the only way to check whether your bluntness is ok is to validate it with others. Likewise, if you feel victimized, realize that softness is not always a good thing. You can also speak out on what is eating you, be blunt on what you experience.

Maybe I’m just rambling here. But I felt it was time to add some bluntness to the #meToo discussion. Thanks, mom.


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