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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: It's OK to be 'perverse' to protect yourself

What always comes to mind teaching at a university is "students these days are so innocent!" Of course, I mean this in a good way, but there are also times when I think, "Wouldn't it be better to be just a little bit more 'perverse?'" This is because I sometimes see students who are too naive, have a tendency to answer every question they are asked with complete honesty, though with pained looks on their faces.

    For example, in my class for university freshmen, I often say, "Everyone, in your language classes like English or German, you have conversation practice, don't you? You don't have to answer honestly during those sessions, you know."

    Let's say there is a male student who loves to knit. Let's say he's asked during conversation practice in his English language class, "What's your hobby?" Of course, there is no problem with him simply answering, "I like knitting," but as a rare hobby for men, there is a possibility he might attract attention and more questions, like "Why?" and "Since when?"

    If you happen to think that drawing that kind of attention would be a pain, then isn't it easier just to answer, "My hobby is watching soccer matches?" To tell the truth, even if he wasn't really interested in soccer, it's simply a practice sentence for English class, so there is no real need to worry.

    When I tell this story, all the students simultaneously express their shock. Some students say, "I don't think you should tell a lie like that," or "I really couldn't make up a lie like that." Still, it's fine if the questions are about something light like hobbies, but no one can say that there have not been times where someone has asked, "How many people are in your family?" or "How are you today?" and you found it difficult to answer honestly.

    It's times like that when you don't have to give a straight answer, and say, "Yes, I'm fine," in reply to a question about your health, or be forgiven for saying, "I don't want to answer that question."

    In my consultation room as well, I tell my young patients during their diagnostic interview to, "Answer the questions to the extent you feel comfortable." If I do not give them such instructions, then there are times when we come to something they might not want to talk about, and they think, "I can't lie to the doctor!" and push themselves to answer, causing unnecessary stress. Even saying, "Why do we have to discuss such a topic?" is completely acceptable as a response to a question.

    When I suggest being more "perverse" or the like, it probably comes across as a bad message: "Are you trying to say that I should be less honest and lie at school or at the hospital?" But if you are too honest to the extent where you will get hurt, then isn't it better to dodge the topic in question and clearly say, "That makes me uncomfortable." It is that message that I particularly want to convey to young people. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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