Honesty Vs. Support: A Battle of the Ages

It’s the rare moment that I laugh out loud while watching TV alone, but yesterday I couldn’t stop. I was watching one of my all-time favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother, in which Lily performs in an off-off-off-Broadway play. When Barney tells her, honestly, that the play was wretched, Lily lectures him on how friends should support each other. Barney doesn’t see it that way and, in an effort to make his point, stages the world’s worst one-man show. He then characteristically forces the gang to sit through said show until they admit friends can’t always be supportive.

Lily’s argument: “I am going to sit through the whole thing and I am going to say something nice about it afterwards. You know why? Because that’s what friends do.”

Barney’s argument: “Friends don’t let friends come see their crappy play.”

Both arguments hold water. When I pour my heart into something, I want my friends to say something nice. Of course, I want them to be speaking honestly. But even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t need to know. Good ol’ fashioned support is a blessed thing.

But sometimes I participate in something—for whatever reason—that I’m not especially proud or enamored of. Maybe it’s a project I was asked to help out with, or something I had no choice but to work on. In those cases, I usually leave my friends out of it. I don’t want to bore them with my so-called crappy play.

Obviously in a world of Lily vs. Barney, Ms. Aldrin is almost always right. She’s Barney’s conscience, after all. But the episode made me wonder, in what circumstances is it better to be honest than supportive? When is “don’t quit your day job” the right response? (Maybe not those words, exactly, but that sentiment at least.)

When a friend decides she wants to pursue her life-long dream of acting or designing clothes or becoming the world’s oldest trapeze artist, at what point do you tell her it’s not going to work out?

Certainly before it comes to this:


Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV

16 responses to “Honesty Vs. Support: A Battle of the Ages

  1. diana mack

    i think for the most part if something is really bad the friend asking your opinion knows it…most times it’s a chance to laugh about it ! however i usually then try to find something nice to say “the lighting was cool” or “you were the only one who seemed to put any effort in it”.

  2. M

    I once had a friend who’s in laws planned her wedding. It was her second wedding and she was over the pomp and circumstance but it was her husband’s first wedding so the in laws insisted on a big wedding. She showed me her wedding pictures once and specifically pointed out the flower arrangements. She had a look of disgust on her face and a tinge of sarcasam in her voice when she asked me how I liked them. She didn’t want to plan the wedding but she was still bitter that her in laws did it so I thought it was ok to be honest. I thought they were tacky and said so. She then told me she made them. After that, whenever anybody asks me a loaded question like that, I always try to find something nice to say, even if it’s vague and small.

  3. This reminds me of the Friends episode where they’re watching Joey’s show, “Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E.” – and they’re all trying to find good things to say about the lighting, etc. Hilarious.

    I usually try to be supportive – but there’s a point past which you have to break the news, gently, that the project is a bad idea. It’s always tricky to discern, though.

  4. Ana

    Wasn’t there a recent article/essay (I want to say I read it here, because, where else!) about how women’s friendships end up having an overall negative impact due to friends encouraging bad choices and unwise life decisions all in the name of being “supportive”? Like spending too much money, or sabotaging relationships because “oh yes, you are too good for him!”, etc…
    I feel like this is somewhat related and obviously can involve both genders. I would say this (with the caveat that I don’t necessarily practice what I preach, I am extraordinarily conflict-averse and just plain chicken sometimes): if being supportive is not going to lead to any future consequences (as in the example of M’s friends flowers or perhaps Lily’s play; i.e. what’s done is done & it was just for fun) than kindness is probably the best bet. If however, your false support may lead your friend to make an ill-informed decision about the future or any other adverse consequence (i.e. actually quit their day job & move to LA to become an actress, or re-create that terrible dye job every 3 months, or bake that disgusting cake for a huge party with important guests she’s trying to impress) than honesty is going to be kinder in the long run. Yes friends are supportive of each other, but they should also be looking out for each others’ best interests. I’d rather hear it from a friend in private, as painful as it may be, then to hear from a dozen strangers 3 years later and wonder why my friends lied to me.

  5. Layla

    This is a difficult question because I like to avoid conflict, but I avoid lying like the plague. I think the word to describe me is “wishy-washy.”

    It depends on whether or not it is going to affect them in the future. I would be very honest reading over someone’s resume or something, but if someone just finished submitting a painting to a contest and it was too late to change anything about it I’d be supportive…for now. I’d pick out something I liked about it and say something like “it’s very colourful, I like the use of complimentary colours over here.”

  6. Did you watch last night’s HIMYM? It was also about honesty vs. support – but this time in relationships. I won’t give details in case you haven’t watched it yet, but you won’t be surprised to know that Lily was in the supportive camp yet again.

    I think the choice to be honest depends on a number of things. Most importantly, what are the consquences if you are supportive and it’s a lie? Would the friend in question make a drastic career mistake? Irreparably damage another relationship in her life? Chase a loser guy across the country when you know she can do better? If there’s something big on the line and you feel strongly about it, you probably owe it to your friend to be honest. But if all that’s on the line is an unflattering pair of jeans that she’s in love with, support may be the better option.

  7. Weird coincidence – that episode of HIMYM was *JUST* on!

  8. Lorrie Paige

    I would totally support no matter what unless I was a professional expert in the field but still I’d support my friend.

    I really don’t think it’s right for a non-professional in the field of artwork to judge like this. The art world is extremely subjective and as a friend, you really have to be careful that you are not judging harshly because of jealously.

    An old boyfriend told me this and I’ll never forget it, and came to see he was absolutely , 100% correct. He said:

    Your friends only see you in one way in work. Whatever your main job has been, that’s the only way they see you–just having that job. They just can’t imagine their friend doing anything else successfully–ESPECIALLY a non-conformist line of work. A friend is too emotionally involved to be totally unbiased and objective when making such a judgement call.

    There are of course exceptions, but leave the judging to the experts who has a much better handle at knowing if the friend has potential or not.

    I hope I made sense; it’s late and I’m sleepy. Goodnight.

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