In Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol,” the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Ebenezer Scrooge several scenes from a London after his death, including one in which a group of Londoners raids his house while his corpse lies unburied.
It’s pretty obvious that these people have no great opinion of the dead man:
“This is the end of it, you see! He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha, ha, ha!”– A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
It takes these post-mortem visions for Scrooge to become a changed man. Unfortunately we aren’t all so lucky as to have honest critics as neighbors, or scary ghosts as visitors.
No, if we have character flaws, most people will be too polite, too afraid, or too indifferent to tell us while we’re living. But they will talk about it (for a little while at least) when we die.
Don’t believe me? Listen at the next funeral you attend to the jokes or even the loving criticisms made of the dead.
“He was always late.” “She was so particular about having her way.” “He had a fiery temper that was quick to flare up.” “Her mood changed like the weather.”
The best of them mean these critiques of real character flaws in loving jest. You might even hear them in the eulogies. But how likely is it that the deceased knew how broadly their character defect defined them among friends and family?
This is exactly the right kind of thing to figure out now. Self-awareness shouldn’t wait for the funeral.
Most people won’t volunteer their critiques of your character easily, so make it easier on them. “What should I know about myself that you’ve observed that I don’t seem to realize?” is one way to frame things. If you don’t feel good about asking this in the middle of a relationship, ask it at the end of one, or else make it very clear that there won’t be repurcussions for honesty. If people tell you the truth, it will really bother you – that’s how you know it’s true.
But being bothered with criticism now is better than being buried ignorant later.