Leaving Cert English Personal Essay: Pretence and Unvarnished Truth #625Lab

“Let’s stop all this pretence and tell each other the unvarnished truth for a change.”  

Write a personal essay in response to this statement. (2006)

This is an essay from a current Leaving Cert student published under our #625Lab section that reviews of strengths and weaknesses of a student's essay rather than a model essay. See the corrections and comments. If you want H1 personal essays, read these:

I can’t recall what set me off at that particular moment, was it a bad hair day? Or severe period cramps? Or both? But when my friend began her usual lament on her volatile “love-life”, I lost it. (Straight away, the author makes it very clear that this is a personal essay. Period cramps = pretty personal. Clarity of Purpose marks scored; the reader is reassured they're in for a personal long-read.)

“I don’t understand why I give so much, yet get nothing in return. Is it me?”, she said as she painted on her angelic face. I knew exactly the desired response. She wanted me to use my best motherly voice and explain that under absolutely no circumstances was she the problem, then proceed to buy her an overpriced Starbucks. 

Sorry Honey, not today. I completely let rip: “You know what?” She began to smile in the hopes that I would comply to the imaginary world in her head. “You ARE the problem! The concept of boundaries is virtually non-existent to you. You latch onto guys and formulate a dozen and one plans when you’ve only known them for approximately 2.4 nanoseconds. No wonder they run to the hills at the first chance they get!" (Telling an anecdote is a good way to engage the reader.)

Let’s stop all this pretence and tell each other the unvarnished truth for a change

Needless to say she didn’t speak to me for quite some time after my little outburst. Eventually, though when she was coffee deprived she came running back. This time, however, with a steady boyfriend. Turns out my truth bearing worked. She admitted that she was in fact an “eager beaver” with a tendency to lie to herself. I can’t blame her though. We often seek reassurance from others, even though we know the unvarnished truth. In this case, finally being honest with her resulted in a positive outcome. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t waited for so long? Would it have saved me the headache and her the heartache? (The author moved from telling a personal story to some refreshing introspection - good moves for a personal essay.)

I guess it’s difficult to tell the truth. I suppose we all feel compelled to tell people what they want to hear, even if it’s a bare-faced lie: the common excuse being that we don’t want to be insensitive or rude. However, my experience is that I genuinely cannot cope with the hassle that accompanies honesty. I’m not bothered about being perceived as cold or unfeeling. I just hate looking at their false expressions of surprise. People never expect the truth. (Doesn't that mean that the expression of surprise isn't false?) It’s almost as if they expect you to comply with their flights of fantasy. My question is: why bother? Why seek my opinion if you already have a preconceived notion as to what I’ll say? Will it drastically impact your behaviour or choice? If no, then why get angry when my opinion does not massage your ego? If yes, then perhaps you should reconsider what influences your actions. It is because of this I find myself avoiding honesty like acidic raindrops, and I tell people what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear. It’s too much responsibility. (Just a few lines back the author argued that people don't and shouldn't use her opinion to change their behaviour. Now she says it is too much responsibility to be honest. This paragraph is quite incoherent.)

I hate pretence, but sometimes it is the only option if you want to maintain your sanity…and friends, I guess. If I were brutally honest all day, every day, I would end up being a complete loner. (It's fun to read this essay because the author's tone is brutally honest. Clever move.) Who would want to associate with an utter (insert cruel insult here). I certainly wouldn’t. And here within lies the delicate balance between using honesty as a concerned, caring friend and well, being a douche. There isn’t a huge amount of truth to the saying; “honesty is the best policy.” What if you tell the unvarnished truth for a change and it backfires on a grand scale? What if your friend isn’t ready to hear the fact that they’re not as talented as they claim? Honesty is double edged sword, it can pierce and wound, yet it can also save and conquer. It’s how you go about it that counts. (This paragraph introduced some new ideas, but then the author went back to the backfiring piece. More Coherence of Delivery marks lost.)

buy leaving cert notes

It’s often been said that I have a sharp tongue. (No transition at all. More Coherence of Delivery marks lost.) I can’t help but say what everyone else is thinking, yet I do not realise how venomous I can be. Sometimes, it’s easier to just keep my thoughts to myself, that way no one gets hurt. I also avoid the so called “moral superiority complex” of those around me. (The author would have been better off using the simpler, clearer term hypocrisy.) Telling the truth can also lead to judgement. Apparently, I’m a witch with a “b” when I voice the truth as I see it. What bothers me, is that these are the very same people who will discuss the person at great length, behind their backs, yet they have the audacity to tell me I’m a morally deprived depraved person for being straight-forward. Kindly save the glances of disapproval for the mirror, please and thanks. I’d prefer to have a sharp tongue and let people know where they stand, rather than leading them to false pretences. However, I do understand that there is nice way to phrase everything. (The tone here changes to being defensive, even apologetic and doesn't really blend well with the rest of the essay. It's possible to make all the same points but frame them differently. This is what they assess under Efficiency of Language Use.) It just isn’t as satisfying, especially if the issue has been brewing for some time. At first, I’ll humour them, just to avoid the drama, then if it becomes a reoccurring theme, I will snap. It’s frustrating because I wish people would see that my opinions or anyone else’s for that matter, are irrelevant. 

My new tactic for being honest, yet respectful is quite a simple one. When I’m asked for my opinion, I will be honest, but I will remind the person that it doesn’t matter what I think. 

“Do I look fat in this dress?” My typical response to such a question is: “Well, it’s not quite to my taste, but if you like it, then go for it.” I want to foster that sense of independence in people. (It's a satisfying read as the author is reflecting on her personal progress and telling it as a story - whether we agree with her or not.) I want people to realise that they shouldn’t seek out the opinions of others, for they are skewed and are of no use. For instance, in my head, the above scenario would go something along the lines of: “Yes. You know it does, you wouldn’t have asked otherwise.” Or “No, you know you are not overweight, you’re actually quite smug about your physique and wanted me to inflate your ego, so eventually it will block out the sun.” I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person. But I guess we’re all conditioned to think a certain way. (Isn't this more or less the same as the anecdote the author told at the start of the essay, only then it was about a boy - and now it's about a dress? The author isn't really making any new points here, so the essay is getting less and less engaging.) We all know the truth. It’s sub-consciously engrained in us. However, what you say and do next is the defining feature of your character. (Ok, so this is a new point. The author should have developed this, not the does it make me fat piece. Now it's quite incoherent as us wanting to be validated and reassured isn't the same as us knowing the truth.)

It’s easy to see through the lies that other people tell themselves, but what about the lies we fabricate in our own minds? How about instead of telling each other the unvarnished truth, we started being honest with ourselves? This is something that I cannot stress enough. Self-pretence is what motivates us to seek assurance elsewhere. (To be fair, this is a frighteningly insightful personal essay. The good parts of this essay are just wow. However, they are really sabotaged by the incoherent bits.) Therefore, I often find myself questioning why I act, the way I act, why I say, the things I say. It can be tormenting in a sense, swinging open doors I swore I’d shut, but in the end it’s freeing. I don’t need others to point out my flaws or good qualities. I am aware of where my abilities end and where my weaknesses begin. I also know what I love, like, despise and dislike. There’s no need for me to consult others about my actions because ultimately no matter what their input, I innately know what I should do. (This is an interesting argument, but it sort of implies that there is no benefit to knowing other people's opinions. This simply doesn't make sense, and the author will lose some Efficiency of Language Use marks.) In fact, we all do, but if who we want to be and who we actually are do not correspond, then self-pretence seems to be the knight in shining armour. 

The unvarnished truth and pretence are two extremes. Too much honesty can very much destroy a person, yet being fake can easily do the same. Who I am to destroy someone’s idealised version of themselves? Maybe their truths are not mine to tell. I am firm believer that everyone has their own journey to follow. All of us will come to our own self-realisations and no one’s unvarnished truth telling will help us reach them any quicker. Censored honesty is perhaps the best policy. We can only allude to the truth, but if the person is not quite ready for that, then it’s futile to impose on their world. It’s also worth noting that the truth as I see it may not be the actual truth. (Finally! Throughout the essay the author keeps assuming she knows the truth, which shows certain logical fallacies in her argument. She said that we all come to out own realisations and have our own truths - which is very logical, but then implied that her vision is the truth. More Coherence of Delivery issues.)  Perhaps, the unvarnished truth doesn’t exist. It consists of tiny truths, that we believe to be true and the rest is subject to our thoughts and experiences.

Leaving Cert English is marked using "PCLM"

All the marking scheme said about this essay was:
Interpret the term ‘personal essay’ liberally expecting a wide variety of responses in terms of content and register. Candidates may choose to couch their responses wholly or partly as personal (first person) narratives.

Clarity of Purpose:

- The message isn't clear: the author moves between the following message: honesty is great, honesty is judged, honesty is useless, honesty is irrelevant, honesty is too much responsibility. Which is it?
- The author definitely engages with the question, but I still don't know how she feels about honesty.

Coherence of Delivery

- The argument is fresh, but hugely conflicted and incoherent.

Efficiency of Language Use

- It's pretty well written, aside from the logical problems in this essay.

Accuracy of Mechanics

- It's all been tidied up here, but remember that this counts for 10%!

625 points Leaving Cert Notes
Leaving Cert Notes and Sample Answers


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