Journalist A. J. Jacobs recently published an article in Esquire about Radical Honesty. According to the web site, Radical Honesty is “a kind of communication that is direct, complete, open and expressive. Radical Honesty means you tell the people in your life what you’ve done or plan to do, what you think, and what you feel. It’s the kind of authentic sharing that creates the possibility of love and intimacy.”
Or from the article:
[Radical Honesty’s founder Brad Blanton] says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you’re having fantasies about your wife’s sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It’s the only path to authentic relationships. It’s the only way to smash through modernity’s soul-deadening alienation.
When Mr. Jacobs tried to practice radical honesty, here are some of the incidents he describes in his article. First the stepmother:
The next day, we get a visit from my wife’s dad and stepmom.
“Did you get the birthday gift I sent you?” asks her stepmom.
“Uh-huh,” I say.
She sent me a gift certificate to Saks Fifth Avenue.
“And? Did you like it?”
“Not really. I don’t like gift certificates. It’s like you’re giving me an errand to run.”
“Well, uh . . .”
And then the female business associate:
I have a business breakfast with an editor from Rachael Ray’s magazine. As we’re sitting together, I tell her that I remember what she wore the first time we met — a black shirt that revealed her shoulders in a provocative way. I say that I’d try to sleep with her if I were single. I confess to her that I just attempted (unsuccessfully) to look down her shirt during breakfast.
I regard my honesty as one of my most valued traits. In fact, some would say I already practice radical honesty! But ‘Radical Honesty’ is a step too far even for me. The incident with the business associate is the easiest to get out of the way. Even if Radical Honesty consists of “toss[ing] out the filters between our brains and our mouths,” there’s always the option of just keeping your damn mouth closed.
The interaction with Mr. Jacobs mother-in-law is a little trickier, since she directly asked him for his opinion. But her question and his response are only one small part in a larger cultural ritual that involves deciding what to give, giving it, receiving it–each step of which has ritualized responses. Mr. Jacobs abides by the conventions of the ritual until some arbitrary point, when he decides to throw convention out the window and practice Radical Honesty. I notice he didn’t mention that he offered to give the gift certificate back to his mother-in-law. It seems to me that if he really wanted to practice radical honesty, he would need to opt out of the entire cultural ritual. You can’t have it both ways.