Understanding of this particular essay may depend on a basic knowledge of the character Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House – he’s smart, he hates people, and he’s not afraid to show his disdain, often with a heavy dose of rudeness and lack of social niceties.
So I was watching an episode of House (S5E17: The Social Contract) with one of my children recently. The patient had frontal lobe disinhibition, and he kept saying everything he thought, much of which was inappropriate. He alienated his wife in the process by admitting he sometimes regretted marrying her, that he thought people who helped others do great things did so because they couldn’t do great things themselves, he disparaged her career choices, etc. The patient also clearly felt horrible about all the things he was saying.
At one point, his wife reached her breaking point (understandably), but after House treated the patient and was discharged, we saw his wife come, tension high, and told him about her new job in the same vein as the career choice he had insulted earlier. His response, now that he had his faculties back, was along the lines of, “That’s great, honey. I know how hard you worked for that. I’m so proud of you.”
We (the audience) know that’s not what he felt at all. We know he thinks her job is a joke. House would have told her the new position was a joke much as the patient did before he was “cured” and he got his life-preserving “inhibitions” back.
But that’s what he chose to tell her.
So often I worry about what people think. Do they think I’m fat? Stupid? Are they laughing at me behind my back? We all have insecurities like this. “If I make decision A, which is best for me, will person X slam me in their head for not making decision B, which might arguably be best ‘in theory’ for ‘us’, but will actually make me miserable?” Sometimes it affects our behavior or decisions.
But watching that ending scene, I was so proud of the guy. Just a character in a TV show made up by writers like me, but still – despite the fact that he was trashing his wife, her choices, being lecherous with the doctors he was attracted to on the show – at the end, when he had the ability back to choose between honesty and care, he chose care.
Sometimes people tell us white lies, they avoid hard conversations, and what they tell us isn’t the truth, the whole truth, or anywhere near “nothing but the truth”. And maybe that’s okay. Do we need House-level honesty all the time? Not really. If our spouse thinks a thing we’re doing is stupid and unnecessary, does it help us to have that pointed out? Probably not. If it’s dangerous, sure. If it’s helping us deal with anxiety, stress, etc? Can we just let it go?