Do any of you watch “30 Rock?” Besides having a major girl crush on Tina Fey, I love the well-written, politically-incorrect satire of the show. Recently, during a bout of procrastination after doing all of my chores, I caught a season two rerun called “Sandwich Day.” After a lot of funny plot points involving, you guessed it, sandwiches, Jack Donnaghy turns to Liz and delivers one of those heart stopping lines that hits you amid all of the funny: “Lemon, life is about minimizing regrets[…] You’re young and you still haven’t blown it, so don’t start now.” Maybe I’m just a sucker for the juxtaposition of humor and serious insight. Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for a lot of things, including, but not limited to, the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” memes, sad commercials with good music, and anything to do with pygmy hippos (feel free to take all of that into consideration when assessing my expertise on any given subject). But Jack’s line resonated with me: Life is about minimizing regret. You may be onto something there, Mr. Donnaghy.

Truth and regret. As an incredibly vocal (read obnoxious) only child, I grew up saying anything and everything that popped into my brain. There were no siblings to get upset and punch me in the head when I stepped out of line. Now that I’m thirty, I am slowly, very slowly, getting to a place where I think carefully before I let fly every passing observation. It’s a lot of work. In the past, I didn’t always think mature adult thoughts like: how will this comment make someone else feel, and how will it make me feel? The thing about regret is that the bad things we say have a way of haunting us more than they do other people. We can brush off a rude remark from someone else, telling ourselves that it’s their issue. But if we are the ones saying the hurtful thing, then it’s very obviously our issue.
So, when should we tell the truth? And when should we err on the side of kindness? One of my favorite memoirists, Mary Karr, does such a brilliant job of writing about difficult truths. In her books “The Liar’s Club” and “Lit,” she bluntly and hilariously recounts her tumultuous childhood, making no bones about her mother’s psychosis or her own eventual alcoholism. When Slate Magazine asked her how she deals with the possible hurt feelings of friends and family, she said, “As soon as you start to leave things out—to shape a tale—you’re maneuvering the actual.” Fair enough, but how do we include all of the bad stuff without alienating everyone we know?
Karr provides a bit of clarification: “If someone’s behaving like an asshole in my book, it most always tends to be me.” This may be a good rule of thumb for truth-telling: turn the lens onto yourself. Your dad was a jerk? Okay, how did you experience that? In what ways were you a jerk back? Did you act like a jerk to other people? Or did it make you more compassionate? Talk about that. The trouble is, this is usually the complete opposite of what we do in everyday life. We devote a great deal of our energy to not looking like assholes, to playing it cool and appearing like we’ve got it all figured out. But why? Why do we expend so much energy on looking like we’re right all of the time?
The irony is that the more “right” we think we are, the more “wrong” we usually end up being: maybe not about the particular fact at hand, but wrong in the bigger, more important sense. This is why we’re often drawn to people who are self-deprecating: they know how to talk about the crappy things in life without laying blame on others. Life is tough, and we all do bad, wrong, mistaken things along the way. We should be able to talk about them, lay out the facts, stare the ugly truth in the eye. I’m not a fan of sweeping truly important stuff under the rug; it tends to linger. So, say what you need to say. But keep this in mind: the only story that you can tell 100% truthfully is the one about yourself and how you dealt and still deal with things. Minimizing regret is not about being disingenuous in order to be kind, it’s about being honest with ourselves first and worrying about the faults of others a very distant second.
What do you think? Is it better to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? Do you err on the side of kindness? Or do you walk the fine line between the two?