There’s A Difference Between Being Honest & Being Mean

Honesty is almost always the best policy. In fact, there are times when only your closest friends will be able to be brutally honest with you. It’s safe to say that people who actually care about you will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. However, there are many people who will go out of their way to hurt you and be mean in the name of “honesty,” and at times, there’s a fine line between the two. If you don’t know the difference, allow me to shed a little light on the topic.

  1. Mean people give unsolicited criticism; honest ones give criticism that you ask for. A good friend will tell you if your hairstyle doesn’t suit you and will offer you honest advice on how to improve your look. However, they’ll only do this if you ask their opinion, and they’ll do it with tact. Someone who’s just being mean will tell you that they hate your hair, and they’ll do it tactlessly.
  2. Mean people show their prejudices; honest ones show open-mindedness in the face of things they don’t understand. Anyone who’s being honest with you isn’t going to try to pass off prejudice as facts. Saying things about your sexual orientation, your race, your family, or things that are out of your control is mean – not honest. If there’s something about you or your lifestyle they don’t understand, they will want to learn more before making judgments.
  3. When people are legitimately concerned about your safety, they’re being honest. A person who’s seriously worried about your safety is being honest with you, and even if you don’t agree with what they have to say, you still have to admire their desire to tell it like it is. It may hurt, but if people are going out of their way to intervene, they care.
  4. Mean people do things with the intention to hurt you. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if you get the feeling that someone is trying to hurt your feelings, control you, or manipulate you, they are probably being mean. This is especially true if they shrug it all off by saying, “Cool down, I’m just being honest.”
  5. When you tell someone that they’re making you uncomfortable, you’re being honest. There are times when people cross boundaries and don’t actually realize it until it’s too late. When you tell someone that they’re upsetting you, making you uncomfortable, or anything similar to it, you’re being honest. It’s not mean to call people out on bad behavior, particularly if it will end up hurting their ability to keep your relationship together in the long run.
  6. You aren’t being mean if you explain to someone why they’ve been excluded from an activity —assuming that they asked in the first place. Once again, this goes back to the fact that honest criticism is typically given when it’s been asked for. If a person actually straight-up asks why they weren’t allowed to come with you to a party, being honest might be the best policy. For some people, it may be the wake-up call they need to improve their manners later on.
  7. You’re not being mean when you stand up for yourself, nor are you overreacting. A common tactic bullies use is to tell people that they’re being nuts, mean, aggressive, or rude by standing up for themselves. You’re not being mean, nuts, or rude by doing so. You’re just telling people that you don’t like how they’re behaving and that you won’t tolerate it.
  8. Most of the time, people aren’t trying to be mean when they give you a heads-up about someone else’s bad deeds. If a person is trying to alert you to someone betraying you, it’s usually not a case of them being mean towards you or the other person. Alerting someone to a person talking smack behind your back, or telling a spouse about an affair isn’t mean. They often are trying to protect you from being blindsided later on.
  9. Mean isn’t always truthful, but honesty is. If someone is being mean, those “honest” snippets might be opinions or just plain fibs.
  10. Honesty also has a filter. A person who is being honest will try to broach a tough subject with finesse. Honest criticism, or even just honest conversation, is done with tact. Even if something is the truth, people won’t respect it unless the harder parts of the conversation is cushioned.
  11. You’re not being honest when you lead others on in a bid to spare feelings. Truth can hurt, but it’s better to know that you’re not interested sooner rather than later. You’re actually just wasting their time, and giving them the idea that they should invest more time in you.
  12. Alternatively, you’re not being mean by keeping negative thoughts about others to yourself. Some people truly live just so that they can be hurtful while claiming they’re just “being real with you.” The truth is that if we all said how much we hair each other’s hairstyles/clothes/baby names/whatever to one another, no one would speak to anyone. Honesty has a filter, cruelty doesn’t.
Ossiana Tepfenhart is a New Jersey based writer and editor with bylines in Mashed, Newsbreak, Good Men Project, YourTango, and many more. She’s also the author of a safe travel guide for LGBTQIA+ people available on Amazon.

She regularly writes on her popular Medium page and posts on TikTok and Instagram @ossianamakescontent.