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Better to speak your mind or hold your tongue?

‘North Dakota Nice’ often means keeping the truth to yourself

Midwesterners can be nice to your face and ruthless behind your back.

Honesty may be the best policy in many other places in the world, but it seems that Midwestern niceties often don’t allow for honesty to rule the day.

Anyone who has lived in this area for longer than a few weeks has encountered a familiar scenario: you see two or more people talking, all seems well, then one of the people walk away and their conversation or person is torn to shreds in their absence.

This open falseness seemed so surprising I hardly believed it the first time I saw it, but it was certainly not my last encounter of this kind. People often say, “Tell me what you really think,” when they actually mean, “Tell me that you agree with me, at least to my face.”

So how do we reconcile the idea that honest people are more worthwhile than deceitful ones, with social policies in place at NDSU and the surrounding area to be underhanded in certain situations?

Let’s first consider why people are so apt to lie before passing judgment. The first and most prevalent reason I see people lying is to protect their self-interests.

 I doubt the individuals in my philosophy course last year who taped the answers to their water bottles were doing so to serve others well. In fact, their actions often led to a worse curve for the rest of the class. It’s easy to hate them as outsiders, but I doubt they felt too bad when they got their grades back.

Then there comes lying that serves to further individual interests. If I had a dollar for every time I heard about someone exaggerated their experience for a job interview, I would have at least, like, 12 dollars. 

People also lie to protect their image. No one college student lives the life they depict on Instagram. In the same way, those instances of acting nice to someone’s face, only to turn to viciousness when they’re gone, seems to reflect a need to feign the appearance of niceness without actually being nice.

Finally, there is lying to protect those we care about. You don’t want to tell a friend they look ugly in a dress they just bought and love. You don’t want to admit to people who love lutefisk that it is a gelatinous challenge to all that is good and right in this world. So you lie.

So with all of this understanding, the establishment of yourself, the protection of those you love and the preservation of our image, it’s easy to see why so many people at NDSU would rather tell a little (or big) lie than deal with reality.

However, when push comes to shove, there is no good reason which excuses the constant misleading conversation and behavior that seems to hang over every interaction. Telling a lie to protect another from harm: acceptable. Telling a lie to further self-interest at the expense of someone else: far more common and far less acceptable.

When individuals often hold a secondary motivation, when a few people place their own grades over that of the class, when you stress your experience for a job past the point of truth or you just a lie is told just for the ease of not confronting the truth, the likelihood of anyone to trust what they see or hear is damaged.

Brutal honesty is just that: brutal. People don’t need to be honest just for the sake of hurting others, but it’s undeniable that lying has at some point damaged us all. We’ve all heard of someone who we thought liked us talking negatively about us in our absence. Many have felt the pain of being lied to and cheated on. Many have lost out on a job, an internship or an experience because someone else wasn’t honest.

If you’re lying in these situations, you can tell yourself that these things cause less damage to yourself. But you can’t deny the implications of your actions and how much damage you end up causing to others.

Accountability needs to come on the receiving end too. Who cares about ‘North Dakota Nice’? If you ask for someone’s honest opinion, be ready to hear it. If you’re asking someone if they’re upset with you, don’t reprimand them for explaining if they are.

Being honest and kind should be pretty basic principles of morality, and yet, we all know for most people it’s not. Take a pause before you tell a lie, you never know who down the line will be damaged by your lie.

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