Radical Honesty

A. J. Jacobs, the guy who – among other lifestyle experiments – tried to literally live like Jesus for a year, introduced me to Radical Honesty with this article (Warning: explicit content – here’s a cleaner introduction).

In short, Radical Honesty is a movement to eliminate the separation between what we think and what we say. Not only does Radical Honesty propose that we just stop lying, it also proposes that we simply blurt out whatever comes to mind, even if it would normally seem offensive to others. That’s the radical part, I guess.

Supposedly, this approach reduces the stress of trying to maintain myths in our lives, which as a result reduces stress related illnesses and improves relationships.

On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, right? Let’s all cut the masquerade and be who we really are. From there, we’ll have a much clearer perspective on how to improve. It sounds freeing.

The problem, at least the way I see it, is that blatantly telling the truth often ends up hurting people. For a mild example, consider what would happen when we meet someone who’s ugly. Sure, we can try to grow to appreciate everyone’s appearance, but in practice, that doesn’t always happen. In practice, I’m like, Wow, she’s really ugly.

If I’m following the Radical Honesty approach, I’d come right out and say, “You know, I think you’re ugly.” And then I’d go on to describe exactly why I think that.

Dr. Brad Blanton, the pioneer of Radical Honesty, recognizes this difficulty but still claims that getting all those feelings out in the open is the best thing to do. According to Blanton, both you and the ugly person end up better off because you’re facing the issue head on instead of denying it.

So fine – Blanton and I have a difference of opinion about the effects of Radical Honesty. That’s normal.

Here’s where it gets fascinating for me. I want to object on the premise that we shouldn’t volunteer our thoughts unless they encourage and help others. While I probably definitely lie straight up, I know that’s not good. I know it ends up hurting people. I’m not convinced, though, that blurting out whatever’s in my head is best.

But while that’s how I want to object, I think my biggest problem really is straight up lying, not withholding information. In other words, if I tried to live Radical Honesty, which would trip me up, telling the truth when someone asks or volunteering the truth before anyone asks? As much as I want to say the latter, I’m pretty sure if I did, I’d be lying.

More online about Radical Honesty: