I recently sat down with a couple of researchers who wanted to hear my opinion on banking. And I gave them an interview they’ll never forget. I told them that I didn’t trust banks or credit unions because of my knowledge of fractional reserve banking. They didn’t know what I was talking about, so I went back to 1913 and the creation of the Federal Reserve and laid out the history of the decline of the dollar and the fact that every dollar represents debt, not value, since there will never be enough of them to pay off all of the debt in the country. I challenged them to walk into their bank and ask for $10,000 of their own money in cash and see what the teller would say. They would go into panic mode and request several days to come up with that kind of cash. Banks are that close to insolvency. It doesn’t take much to start a bank run. Needless to say, this was all shocking to them because they had apparently never heard anyone talk like this before.
After all that, they asked me to describe my perfect bank, if I ran one. I would call it the Brutal Bank. I told them that my perfect bank would be brutally honest with people, telling clients bluntly that they shouldn’t go into debt for frivolous reasons like vacations or cars. I’d tell potential customers if they were lousy or not. And I wouldn’t say it for the sake of hurting their feelings, but to save them from self-destruction. I’d be hurtful but helpful. It would be an opportunity to educate people about how banks operate. I’d tell them exactly how much money I had in the vault, and I’d explain that for every dollar they put into their savings account, I’d have the freedom to eventually lend up to 10 dollars thanks to the nightmare of the multiplier effect. At the conclusion, I told them I’d be the worst bank of all time, and (to my surprise) they replied, “Not necessarily.”
I had earned their respect by telling them painful things they probably didn’t want to hear. I basically laid out everything that I discussed in my Brewster’s Millions article. One of the researchers was tasked with writing down what I said while the other asked most of the questions, and toward the end of the interview, the one writing said he had gotten so much good material from me.
If you want to earn someone’s respect, tell them something they don’t want to hear, but that they need to hear. I’d like to share a few examples of this from the following four films:
The Shawshank Redemption
In The Shawshank Redemption, we see a beautiful example of the power of brutal honesty. Red spends more than 30 years telling the parole board what he thinks they want to hear to let him out of prison. Each time he fails. But after 40 years, he finally decides that he doesn’t care what they think.
It’s his “I don’t give a crap” attitude that earns him his freedom. He’s tired of pretending for the sake of strangers who know nothing about him or his experience as an apologetic murderer. The only guilty man in Shawshank is the only one who manages to get out of prison legitimately before going senile because of his honesty.
In Bulworth, Warren Beatty plays a politician who has been pandering to his constituents for years, and he finally decides to be open and honest when he’s got nothing to lose.
He really puts the candid in candidate. And he’s just getting warmed up. If you’d like a profoundly politically incorrect take on government, I suggest giving Bulworth a watch. It’s a forgotten film gem.
Office Space has the ultimate I-don’t-character in the form of Peter Gibbons. But to understand the brilliance of his meeting with the Bobs, you need a little context. Two men named Bob have been brought into a software company as consultants to help with downsizing. They interview each employee to find out what he does and then decide whether or not to fire him. First, they meet with an employee named Michael Bolton.
It kills him inside to tell them what they want to hear purely out of the fear of losing his job. He wusses out. And then we see how Peter talks to the Bobs.
One of these characters gets fired and the other gets promoted. Want to guess which is which? You can see the admiration and respect growing in each Bob’s face, tone, and posture as they grapple with Peter’s confident assertions. He has management written all over him.
In Liar Liar, Fletcher Reede has an honest confession about his boss unwillingly torn from his lips during one of the comedy film’s more memorable moments.
I have a bit of experience along these lines. You might think I’m a jerk, but I’m actually an overly kind man. I like to compliment people when they deserve it. But when someone wants praise and hasn’t done anything to warrant it, I can’t give it to them. I once had a boss who practically begged me to tell her that she was improving as a writer, but I had to tell her that she had not improved in the years I had worked with her. If anything, she had gotten worse. She once told me that she felt like no one respected her at the office, and I knew that was true so I responded that if I were her I wouldn’t continue to work somewhere I wasn’t respected. No one else spoke to her like that. I did because I thought she wanted honesty above all else. I learned later that she absolutely hated me to the core, but too many people fought for me to let her fire me. I managed to outlast her.
Being brutally honest is how I got my wife to fall in love with me. In our college town, we had gone on several dates that had mostly been awkward. And then one morning, she called me up to tell me that there was no chance that we were going to be a couple, but she said she still wanted to go on one last date with me. It was a mountain hike. With no hope of seeing her again, something snapped inside my brain. On that hike, I dropped all pretenses and just told her exactly why I am the way that I am, how I used to be, and what I want out of life without worrying at all about what she would think. I didn’t care about her feelings, and I wouldn’t let them affect my decisions moving forward. But it turned out that she liked what she heard. By the time we finished our hike, she was convinced I was the right man for her. We never did officially date, but we did get married, and that’s what counts.
Feel free to tell me your favorite brutally honest scenes in movies, and if you think I suck. I can take it.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Honesty is good, but how you deliver it matters. In my experience, if someone can tell you’re being sensitive to their feelings, they’re more open to listening to what you have to say. Who wants to spend time with cruel, cold people over those who are respectful and compassionate, even if the message is painful?
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Very true. It’s important to let people know that you have their best interest in mind as you correct them. It’s a two-way street. They have to be willing to set aside their pride to listen. I’ve often felt hurt on first hearing of my imperfections and then, upon reflection, I’ve realized the truth of their words and what I need to do to change. I hope everyone is capable of that kind of thinking.
One of the strangest truths I have learned in over half a century of living in vastly diverse cultures is that people hate hearing the truth yet respect and yes, even LIKE that rare person they can count on for their honest opinion.
More than once I have accidentally overheard someone say “.. if you really want to know, ask [her], cause she’ll tell you! You probably won’t like it, but she’ll it will be the truth and she’ll be right..” or “unless you really want an honest answer DON’T ask [her], cause she will actually tell you, and she’ll be honest. Never mean, but truthful, and right too”. All were obviously said with an air of begrudging respect and mixture of like/dislike of varying degree.
What stuck me most was that over and over the balance always tipped more twords the positive, something I never expected nor understood. I always hope to not be asked for insight. And always temper my opinion with respectful understanding of human nature, never judgement.
I’m suspect that this is a rare trait and while you wouldn’t want many such friends one is good, maybe even essential to have.
ps: luv these insightful posts that (so far as I’ve seen) really nail it!
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