One of my favorite coffee shops here in Raleigh is part of a strip mall, and the businesses all share a common bathroom. Recently, someone started locking the communal bathroom, and a sign was scotch-taped to the door. In that inimitable management-font-style, the sign read: “THE BATHROOMS HAVE BEEN LOCKED FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE.” 

Well, no. In most civilizations, it is considered more convenient to simply push open the door than to request a key from the overworked barrista. But no matter.

One day I asked one of the barristas what gives with the locked bathroom, and she said, “We had to lock it because a crazy homeless man was smearing his feces on the wall, and the janitor threatened to quit.”

OK, that gave me a dramatically more favorable attitude toward the lockup. And it made me wonder — isn’t there something to be said for the cold, hard, gross truth: “THE BATHROOMS HAVE BEEN LOCKED TO KEEP THE CRAZY, FECES-SMEARING HOMELESS GUY OUT. SO WE KNOW IT’S A HASSLE FOR YOU TO GET THE KEY, BUT JEEZ, THINK ABOUT THE JANITOR.”

Jokes aside, I do think there’s a communication moral buried in here. By keeping me at arm’s length from the real issue, the management allowed me to jump to false conclusions. (I assumed that the landlord was trying to keep non-paying customers from using the facilities, and I fumed about how petty that was.)

Wouldn’t our audience understand us better, and feel more empathy for us, if our instinct was to give them a glimpse of our reality rather than try to obscure it?

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