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The Tone of Our Truth-Telling Makes All the Difference

"The tone of our truth-telling can build a wall or a bridge," said Ed Waltz.

Ed and his wife, Barb, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, should know. They witnessed two types of truth-telling by two doctors. The Waltz's daughter, Deb, has cerebral palsy.

Barb had hoped that Deb would walk one day. After performing a battery of tests, the first doctor led Ed and Barb into a small conference room where he bluntly laid out for them what they could expect. In a tone that was cold and emotionally disconnected from his patient, the doctor said, "It is extremely unlikely that your daughter will ever walk."

Still in a state of shock from the devastating news, Barb asked, "But what kind of shoes should I buy for my daughter?" She was thinking about some special corrective shoes, or perhaps shoes connected to a brace.

Without softening the blow, the doctor retorted, "Buy her whatever kind of shoes you want. She won't be using them to walk in." And with that, he quickly left the room, where Barb burst into tears.

Several months later, the family met with a second doctor. This time the entire scene felt different, though. Ed said, "My wife asked this new doctor essentially the same question she had asked the first one. She was still wondering if there was anything we could do that might enable our daughter to take even a few steps."

The doctor paused for a moment, thinking. Then, he looked compassionately and directly into Barb's eyes and said, "You know what I would do if I were you, Mrs. Waltz? I'd buy my daughter the prettiest little pink shoes I could find, with purple shoe laces."

Barb knew what he meant.

Ed said, "We talked about our experience on the way home. Both doctors had told us the same thing—Deb would never walk. I'm ashamed to say what we felt like doing to the first doctor, but we felt like hugging the second doctor."

How we tell the truth makes a difference in how that truth is received.

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