Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Average American Male, by Chad Kultgen

Honesty is really difficult to take, isn't it?

I lived in Germany for a year, and the part of the culture that took the most adjustment for little American me was not the openness of sexuality, the drinking on the train, or having a genuine rail system in the first place. The most difficult aspect was the honesty.

No niceties from my colleagues about my dramatic haircut. (I blame my translation skills at the hairdresser's.) No mincing of words from my roommate about splitting the phone bill. No holding back about my shortcomings as a foreigner from folks at the Diskothek. Honesty was right in my face; once I got used to it, I quite appreciated it.

Even so, honesty is difficult to implement in my everyday American existence. I don't mean not telling lies; I mean not glossing over the improprieties and not burying criticism in compliments. The situation only gets worse when someone tries to make new friends or, heaven help us, get a date. Honesty means sharing despicable, embarrassing, and improper thoughts! Honesty means feelings could get hurt! Who wants to get coffee with a truly honest person?

Remove the filters, remove the censures, and you get a book like The Average American Male. Yes, honesty is sometimes revolting, sometimes shocking, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes incredibly meaningful. This book is what we'd all hear from someone, sooner or later, if we could be completely honest with one another.

But what about being honest with ourselves? For all the narrator's crass honesty, he doesn't recognize what he really needs from life. A culture of compliment sandwiches encourages softening the truth, and that's especially accurate when we deceive ourselves. True honesty doesn't stem from being blunt with everyone else in the world, but from cultivating self-awareness and self-honesty.

The German experience didn't make me honest. If I can be forthcoming with anyone about my feelings, my opinions, my desires, and my perspectives -- and if I can take such forthrightness -- it's because I am learning to know myself, and to trust myself.

(Since we're on the topic of honesty: I can't suggest this book for minors or relatives. If you are a minor or my relative, and you read this book, you do so independent of ever hearing about it from me. Unless you are my grandparents; in which case, just don't read it, period.)

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