In late 2007, I told the absolute truth for two weeks straight. I went out of my way to tell people how much I either appreciated or resented them. I brought up past situations that still really bugged me. I answered questions with the kind of overwhelming candor that would make Howard Stern blush. I was completely transparent.
Needless to say…those were the worst two weeks of my life.
Okay, I’m lying—they weren’t the worst two weeks, just the most confrontational. Every conversation was like playing hopscotch in a mine field. The conversation topics that we generally gloss over with convention turned into full-on confessionals.
At the bank: “Hello sir, how are you this morning?”
“I’m doing great—the woman in front of me was wearing a thong and I could totally see it through her skirt.”
. . .
“Obi, did you get my email?”
“Yea, I read it but couldn’t think of anything clever to respond with so I just deleted it, hoping you wouldn’t ask me about it.”
. . .
And those were the easy questions. Topics on relationship (wowsers), politics, or what I really thought of someone, went from 5-minute stop & chats to hour-long heart-to-hearts. I stopped the experiment after two weeks, not because telling the truth (the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth) was difficult, but because having conversations with people on that level—everyday—was just emotionally draining.
It all started when my good friend Brian suggested I read a book called Radical Honesty written by this guy named Brad Blanton. (I never got around to actually reading the book but I did read this sweet, condensed article about it in Esquire magazine.)
Blanton suggests that the only way to have real, authentic relationships with anyone is to be a real, authentic human being. Imagine that!
But you say: “I am real. I tell the truth. I’m an authentic human being.” Blanton would disagree. Many of us burn through conversations with the same canned responses. (There are probably hundreds of different human emotions but when asked the question “How are you?” 95% of us respond with “I’m good.” Really? Are you always “good”?) We don’t realize it but not only does this show a lack of awareness but it’s completely inauthentic.
I’ve got to tell you: those two weeks were rough. They were incredibly uncomfortable. Who knew that being totally and completely honest with the people could create such tension? You quickly realize how often you’re willing to lie in order to avoid confrontation. And in being so honest, you also realize when your attempts at avoiding confrontation are completely unnecessary.
I called an old friend and told him that I resented that time back in school when he secretly dated a girl that he knew I had a crush on and didn’t tell me about it. I felt like I couldn’t trust him after that. We talked about it (and other things) for an hour, and our friendship deepened as a result. My vulnerability and my ability to call him out created a stronger bond between us.
This is one of the benefits to being radically honest: your vulnerability creates the space for others to be vulnerable with you. They see you as a human being with emotions and not some robot with a fake smile and clever witticisms.
Being radically honest means taking responsibility for everything: your actions, your desires, your opinions, etc.
“Responsibility means that whatever you are doing, you are willing to experience yourself as the cause. You are the source of your troubles as well as your successes. As long as you are blaming, explaining, apologizing, trying, resolving to be good, hoping or feeling guilty, you are not being responsible.” – Brad Blanton, PhD
Responsibility takes courage. Honesty takes courage. Telling the world what you really want takes courage.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s the creation of possibility.” – Brad Blanton, PhD
Perhaps this is why I found such value in the experiment. I’m always looking for opportunities to express courage. The more often I act from courage the less often I act from fear.
“Always, always, always, always, always do what you are afraid to do… Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain… Do the thing and you will have the power.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
AN EXPERIMENT: THE 7-DAY RADICAL HONESTY CHALLENGE
Starting now, I want you to pledge to be totally, completely, and radically honest for the next 7 days. When asked a question, answer with the whole truth—not just the good parts. If you’re holding a grudge towards someone—tell them. If you’re appreciative about something someone did for you—tell them, even if it was in the past. If it had a profound effect on you today, there’s no doubt they’d be glad to know it.
More importantly, pledge to be radically honest with yourself. Ask questions. Do I really want to do this, or am I doing it to look good in front of the boss? Am I really happy with my body, or do I just tell myself that to avoid exercise and healthier eating habits? Am I really happy in this relationship, or do I stay because it’s comfortable?
Take this as a life experiment. Be radically honest with yourself and others and see what comes up. It’s only 7 days. And if things become too prickly—you can always go back to lying. :)