Let’s Play the Radical Honesty Game…

I just finished my recent copy of The Week. (It’s one of the best investments that I’ve ever made.) Near the end of the magazine (right before the page of games that is the last page), they run an essay entitled The Last Word. Now, in The Last Word, the editors of The Week have placed some really fun essays–one about a mom who let her kid ride the NYC subway home alone (and yes, the kid turned out fine), one about why folks have trouble with spouses (there have actually been a few of those; must be a recurring problem), etc.  In this last issue, their Last Word essay is all about one man’s quest to understand the concept of Radical Honesty and use it in his life, if possible.

Radical Honesty is a…well…radical concept.  The basis of the idea is a theory posited by Brad Blanton–he doesn’t want us simply not to lie, he wants us to eliminate the “public filter” that we have imposed upon ourselves in polite society. In his eyes, everyone in this world should say everything we think–whether it is hateful or loving, hurtful or healing or neutral.  No matter the immediate cost to ourselves, we should be completely honest with each other because Blanton thinks that only then will we be able to really “contribute” to other people’s beings.

We create little (sometimes big) fictions not just to keep ourselves safe, but to protect those around us as well.  Imagine telling your mother that you think she is horrendously obese. Or telling your dad that you think he is a shiftless moron.  These things hurt people.  Once you have said something, you can never ever really take it back.  It’s always in the air like smog in LA.  Even if you cannot see it all the time, the echoes of those words will not completely fade away.  They will sit there, biding their time, until they catch you unaware–maybe it is a great day for you, otherwise; maybe it has been the worst day of the year–and punch you in the gut. Not only does Radical Honesty have the likelihood of emotionally maiming the people at whom it is aimed, it also contains the potential to harm the one doing the directing.

Yes, honesty is touted as the best policy–and it certainly keeps things simple–but is it truly the best possible option? Always? Granted, telling your best friend that she has gained some weight may coerce her into going to the gym, but being super-blunt about it could wreck the friendship–odds are she already thinks she is fat, anyway, and your telling her this only breaks her heart, so a better option might be to talk to her about going to the gym as your workout buddy or joining you on your evening walk. …On the other hand, honesty can save you a heck of a lot of time. What if you would rather skip the boring meeting about running the copier? (Seriously? Is it that hard?) I told one of my co-workers that I would certainly not like to go to the meeting to “be taught” how to use our brand-new copier. I didn’t have to go to the teaching session, and I still have my job.

Generally, though, I’m only brutally honest about resentments when I am really mad. For instance, I was dating a guy for a while, and I really didn’t like him. (Somehow, I let myself get cajoled into it. That will never happen again. I think I can safely say that I learned my lesson.) After we finally broke up, and he had started “seeing other people”, we hung out every now and then. I started meeting other people. Fun stuff. Then he rained all over my parade with his self-pity and condescension-to-others-who-are-not-him. Not acceptable. Once he realized I was getting really serious in a relationship with someone else, he got very confrontational. I mostly ignored it. What I really should have said was something along the lines of:

“No, you don’t deserve the hottest girl you see–you’re getting grossly obese, you tend to have an inflated sense of self, and you were really mean to “the chubby girl” in your office who had the utter audacity to talk to you like she was an equal. What is wrong with you?”
“Get over yourself.”
“How dare you insult my children and wish them bad things!” (Though, this, I actually did say to him.)
“I resent you for trying to make me feel guilty about breaking up.”
“I resent you for being so overly obnoxious all the time.”
“I resent you for being so hateful to/about my sports teams. Yes, it really does upset me (25 years later) that the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis, and that Paul Tagliabue and Jack Kent Cooke seemingly tag-teamed Baltimore out of a football franchise for decades, thus losing us the “Colts” name and the colors. Jerk.”
“I resent you for wearing an Indianapolis jersey to meet my Dad and thinking it was funny. You’re lucky he’s a pacifist. You’re lucky that I mostly am, too.”
“I almost wish I had allowed that angry fan to pummel you when you were being obnoxious. The first time we hung out.”
“I resent you for driving like a maniac in your stupid little car all through the streets of Bethesda and into the parking garage, and then trying to pick a fight with a girl and her boyfriend because she was having a hard time getting her (rather large) vehicle into the teeny-tiny spots in the parking garage. Those spots are almost too small for a motorcycle, no less a full-size vehicle. Seriously, dude: Lose the road rage. And don’t brag about how you can take a punch and then call the cops on the guy. You instigated, and the DC-Metro-area police have better things to do. I wish I had walked the six blocks to the Metro and ridden it to Rachael’s place, instead of consenting to continue listening to you bitch the whole way to the restaurant. At least the food was good.”
“I resent you for wishing bad things on my fiance. You need to learn to grow up and take responsibility for your own actions and inactions.”
“I resent you for ridiculing the candidate that I favored. Politics isn’t that important day-to-day; quit being a schmuck.”
“I resent you for convincing me to like you, even though all signs pointed to ‘No!'”
“I resent you for whining about how much you hate living in this area while refusing to leave.”
“I resent you for whining about pretty much everything in the whole world. That doesn’t make you “punk”–that makes you a malcontent. Nobody likes those.”
“I resent you for being so hateful to tourists and foreigners–they have as much right to ride the mass transit as you do. Also, you weren’t born knowing where to go, so cut them a break.”
“I resent you for hating on overwieght people–you’re not skinny in the least, so not only are you a mean individual, you are also a hypocrite.”
“I resent you for hating on the mass transit system all the time. Lighten up. Enjoy the chance to experience of all kinds of new people. Accept that you do not dictate when the trains and buses arrive. Bring a book.”

You know…now that I think about it, Radical Honesty might be a pretty good idea. At least in moderation.