Book 04
Chapter 06
What we have to say versus what people want to hear.

Humans are social animals; we live by interacting socially. And when we interact socially, we say things that are pleasing to people, and we say things that it pains them to hear. To do right, we must say the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way. In this chapter, let us look at the kinds of people that do right, and those that do wrong, and what is the virtue, and what are the vices.

First, there are those who never oppose or contradict anyone. They will agree with anything you say, and will only tell you things that they think you want to hear. Such people are called 'obsequious'. The opposite of such people are those who will always be ready to contradict or oppose. They always say what is on their mind, not caring who is present, and if someone finds what they say to be hurtful or disagreeable, well that is just too bad. Such people are called 'churlish', 'contentious', or 'tactless'. Both kinds of behavior are obviously bad, and both are opposites, so there must be a middle way, a right way, and a virtue that keeps to it.

But what is this virtue like? Let us describe the virtue by describing how one who has it acts. They act like how a good friend will be in talking with you. They will respect you, but if there is something that you need to hear, they will find a way to tell it to you. Also, while they are not going to be shy about putting their own opinions out there, they will not be tactless either. Let us call this virtue 'forthrightness', and the person who has it 'forthright'.

Now, note that such a person is like this with everyone, and not just with friends. They do not, at one time, behave in the right way around friends, and then later around strangers start acting in a way that is obsequious or tactless. This person acts in the right way because it is the right way, and they have the virtue. But there is a difference in the amount of care and effort that they put forth. For those who are close to us, we ought to take more care and put forth more effort in everything we do.

Now, other virtues are about goods, and here also the virtue of forthrightness is concerned with a good: honor. This person uses honor (and expediency) to guide their actions. First, they sense whether or not a course of action will be honorable, and second they try to give pleasure and avoid pain where they can. For example, suppose that a forthright person is on a team and there is someone else on the team that is doing poorly, and it is hurting the team effort. The honorable course of action is to make this person aware of what they are doing wrong, and then they can fix it and the team will do good. The dishonorable course of action will be to keep quiet and let the team fail. Now, the course of action is decided, but the forthright person will try to tell the other person what they need to know in the best way possible. In this instance, let us imagine that it is better to take the other person aside and tell them in private rather than embarrass them in front of everyone and cause loss of confidence. But still, the forthright person does tell them and does the right thing.

Again, the forthright will give another pain if to do otherwise is dishonorable or if it is more noble to tell someone a truth which they do not want to hear, but it is something which they really should know. In such cases, the other ought to take what is said in the right way. If they do not, then the forthright person is not at fault; and if they had to do it over again, they would still do the same, and say what needs to be said.

A forthright person will not give pleasure to someone if doing so is not honorable. But the obsequious do try to please when it is not honorable. The churlish, on the other hand, are never pleasant to deal with, even when it is in their own interest to be nice.

When we talk about the pleasures and pains of social intercourse, we are not just talking about what is said, but also about what is not said, and what is done, and what is not done. Perhaps you might think of a time when everyone is agreeing that something is good, because they wish for it to be good, and they hope that by convincing each other that it is good, then it really will be so. Now, imagine a forthright person who refuses to agree when they know it is wrong, because the thing is not good, and it is not good to praise things that are bad. That may take away from the excitement and give other people a bit of pain to hear such a thing, but it is still the better and more honorable thing to do. Or, think of a lively party and the activities that everyone joins in together. Now imagine that it is getting out of hand, and people are encouraging others to join in doing something that they are going to regret the next day, but still tonight it seems like a good idea. Generally, when people refuse to join in something, it takes away from the spirit of the event, and it causes others a bit of pain, and so they dislike it when others refuse to join in. Still, the forthright person will refuse and cause pain, because that is better than doing something which one should not do.

A forthright person will act differently around different people and treat each as they ought to be treated. Here is where expediency comes in. To persons of high position or representatives of respectable institutions, they put forth more effort and take more care to make sure that in their dealings they give pleasure and avoid pain. But, however, this does not mean that they become obsequious. That would be dishonorable, and a person of virtue does not act in that way. And while in bustling marketplace or in a crowded theater, they will make an effort to act in the right way, they do not go so far as to let people get in the way of them doing what they are there to do. And, generally, if it is better to say or do something that causes someone a bit of pain now, but in the long run it is better for the relationship, then the forthright person will do just that.

But there are some people who will never say or do anything to cause another pain, even if it is the better thing to do. They always try to give pleasure. First, there are those who want to be nice and get along, but they do it in the wrong way. Such people are called obsequious. Then there are those who do so so that they can get the other person to like them (or at least like listening to them). They do this in order to get money (or perhaps something else); such people are called flatterers.

And again, those who look to always give everyone a hard time are called contentious.

These extremes (contentiousness and obsequiousness) are very much opposed to each other and, though little thought is paid to the mean, forthrightness, it does exist, and it is something that we should all strive for.


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