Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 18, 2024

The honest truth

By ALIZA LI | September 23, 2021



Li realizes the importance of being honest with her friends, even when it hurts.

A friend of mine once told me that the health of one’s relationships with others is often the strongest indicator of one’s personal happiness at that moment. Regardless of the truth of this statement, it’s been very relevant to my life, especially recently.

Honesty does not always come easily to me. I often choose to stay silent in moments of conflicting interests rather than divulge my true feelings. I have a problematic belief that kindness to others means always agreeing, withholding criticism and saving people from the brutal truth. 

While I believe that avoiding conflict is the best route in most situations — especially when I value my relationship with the other person over my desire to be correct — I find it difficult to achieve a balance between avoiding conflict and staying true to my personal beliefs.

In high school, I was very close to a group of girls, people whom I considered my best friends. We were an inseparable and tight-knit group, and I knew I would miss them dearly when college started and we went our separate ways for the semester.

In spring 2021, when my high school friends and I could finally live on our respective campuses for the first time, much of our communication within that group slowly faded away as the semester went on. We didn’t text in our group chat, didn’t call, didn’t check up. I imagine we were all too busy and overwhelmed, and I don’t blame myself or any of them. It was a natural process.

When summer break started and we went back home, it was easy for us to fall back into the swing of things and start hanging out again. It was fun, simple and easy, and I remembered everything I loved about this group. At the end of the break, we all made a commitment to try to keep up with each other and regularly talk. However, after the fall semester started, I found it very difficult to do so.

The most uncomfortable realization I’ve had over the past month is how finite my time is. In a single day, we have about 16 or so waking hours at our disposal. Everything that must be done that day must be taken from those 16 hours. Every second spent doing one task represents the opportunity cost of doing a different task. In that same notion, my time spent with others is finite as well.

As much as I’d like to evenly distribute my minutes between school, work, religious activities, Hopkins friends and high school friends (while still sleeping as much as possible), there must always be sacrifices. And unfortunately, during an in-person semester, it became very easy for me to sacrifice time spent with high school friends.

Calls were often rescheduled because of me. I rarely texted in the chat, while they frequently blew it up with memes and life updates. Perhaps a better person would’ve been able to balance it all, but I lack a lot of self-discipline and control.

At a certain point, I started to grow anxious and guilty. I wasn’t sure how to approach the situation because, on the one hand, I wanted to be a more committed friend, but on the other hand, I didn’t trust myself to fulfill empty promises. The truth was that I wanted to give more of my time to my Hopkins friends while I was here on campus, and I found it difficult to invest in others virtually.

I was uncomfortable with telling my friends the truth because of my fear of hurting them and my desire to keep everyone happy. I considered doing nothing, just slowly growing absent from the group chat until I essentially ceased interaction with them until summer began again, but the utter lack of communication in that decision didn’t sit right with me.

Eventually, I asked another friend for advice, and he urged me to tell the truth. He explained that since I was going to spend less time with my high school friends anyway — regardless of whether I communicated with them about it or not — it would be better for me to be honest and upfront about my intentions out of respect for them.

He also explained something that I always found difficult to truly believe: that people can genuinely respect honesty even when it hurts. My sensitivities to the truth often blind me to the reality of its value. People can be hurt by an uncomfortable truth while still valuing the fact that it was divulged out of a desire for vulnerability and communication.

After telling my friends that I needed to take a step back this semester and spend more time with my college friends, I was pleasantly surprised by their support and acceptance of my desires. Knowing my friends, I should have expected this kind response, but my guilt over the situation made me uncertain of anything.

As this experience has taught me, I hope to grow to be more vulnerable about my true feelings.

Aliza Li is a sophomore from Houston, Texas studying Writing Seminars and Cognitive Science. Her column explores how her relationships with others are continuously transforming her and her college experience.

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