May 1, 2012
We reflexively instruct our children to always tell the truth. It's even encoded into Boy Scout Law. It's what adults do, isn't it? But do we? Isn't telling the truth too much and too often a bad life strategy – perhaps even dangerous? Is telling children to always tell the truth even itself the whole truth?
One of the most thought provoking articles on the topic, and one I keep returning to, year after year, is I Think You're Fat. It's about the Radical Honesty movement, which proposes that adults follow their own advice and always tell the truth. No matter what.
The [Radical Honesty] movement was founded by a sixty-six-year-old Virginia-based psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. He says everybody would be happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time. This would be radical enough – a world without fibs – but Blanton goes further. He 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. Oversharing? No such thing.
Yes. I know. One of the most idiotic ideas ever, right up there with Vanilla Coke and giving Phil Spector a gun permit. Deceit makes our world go round. Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.
And yet … maybe there's something to it. Especially for me. I have a lying problem. Mine aren't big lies. They aren't lies like "I cannot recall that crucial meeting from two months ago, Senator." Mine are little lies. White lies. Half-truths. The kind we all tell. But I tell dozens of them every day. "Yes, let's definitely get together soon." "I'd love to, but I have a touch of the stomach flu." "No, we can't buy a toy today – the toy store is closed." It's bad. Maybe a couple of weeks of truth-immersion therapy would do me good.
The author, A.J. Jacobs, is a great writer who made a cottage industry out of treating himself like a guinea pig, such as attempting to become the smartest man in the world, spend a year living exactly like the Bible tells us to, and to become the fittest person on Earth. Based on the strength of this article, I bought two of his books; experiments like Radical Honesty are right up his alley.
Radical honesty itself isn't exactly a new concept. It's been parodied in any number of screwball Hollywood comedies such as Liar, Liar (1997) and The Invention of Lying (2009). But there's a big difference between milking this concept for laughs and exploring it as an actual lifestyle among real human beings. Among the ideas raised in the article, which you should go read now, are:
- Telling someone that something they created is terrible: is that cruelty, because they have no talent, or is it compassion, so they can know they need to improve it?
- Does a thought in your head that you never express to anyone represent your truth? Should you share it? This is particularly tricky for men, who think about sex twice as much as women.
- How much mental energy do you expend listening to a conversation trying to determine how much of what the other person is saying is untrue? Wouldn't it be less fatiguing if everything they said was, by definition, the truth? And when you're talking, always telling the truth means you never have to decide just how much truth to tell, how to hedge, massage, and spin the truth to make it palatable.
- In a hypothetical future when every action we take is public and broadcast to the world, is that exposing the real truth of our lives? Should we become more honest today to ready ourselves for this inevitable future?
- Always telling the truth can be thrilling, a form of risk taking, as you intentionally violate taboos around politeness that exist solely for the sake of avoiding conflict.
- Total honesty can lead to new breakthroughs in communication, where politeness prevented you from ever reaching the root, underlying causes of discontent or unhappiness.
- Honesty is more efficient. Rather than spending a lot of time sending messages back and forth artfully dancing around the truth, go directly there.
- If people see you are willing to be honest with them, they tend to return the favor, leading to a more useful relationship.
What we often don't acknowledge is that the truth is kind of scary. That's why we have a hard time being honest with ourselves, much less those around us. Reading through all these ambiguous situations that A.J. put himself through, you start to wonder if you understand what truth is, or what it means to decide that something is "true". After summarizing the article in bullet form, I'm surprised there are so many points in favor of honesty, maybe even radical honesty.
But uncompromisingly committing to the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, has a darker side.
My wife tells me a story about switching operating systems on her computer. In the middle, I have to go help our son with something, then forget to come back.
"Do you want to hear the end of the story or not?" she asks.
"Well...is there a payoff?"
It would have been a lot easier to have kept my mouth closed and listened to her. It reminds me of an issue I raised with Blanton: Why make waves? "Ninety percent of the time I love my wife," I told him. "And 10 percent of the time I hate her. Why should I hurt her feelings that 10 percent of the time? Why not just wait until that phase passes and I return to the true feeling, which is that I love her?"
Blanton's response: "Because you're a manipulative, lying son of a bitch."
Rather than embrace the truth, as Radical Honesty would have us do, Adrian Tan advises us to be wary of the truth.
Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth. I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.
I think he's right. But Radical Honesty isn't altogether wrong, either. Let me be clear: Radical Honesty, as a lifestyle, is ridiculous and insane. Advocating telling the truth 100% of the time, no matter what, is harmful extremism. But it's also wonderfully seductive as a concept, because it illustrates how needlessly afraid most of us are of truth – even truths that could potentially help us. Radical Honesty teaches us to be more brave. That is, when it's not destroying our lives and the lives of everyone around us.
- What is the purpose of this truth?
- What effect will sharing this truth have on the other person, on yourself, on the world?
- What change will come about, positive or negative, from choosing to voice a particular truth at a particular time?
I believe the true lesson of Radical Honesty is that truth, real truth, is honesty with a purpose. Ideally a noble purpose, but any purpose at all other than "because I could" will suffice. By all means, be brave; embrace the truth. But if your honesty has no purpose, if you can't imagine any positive outcome from being honest, I suggest you're better off keeping it to yourself.
Or even lying.
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Posted by Jeff Atwood
I spent decades of my life as a mediocre guitar player because everyone told me I sounded great. Until someone understood that I really wanted to be a good guitar player, and I was ready to work for it. That person told me that I sucked (and explained why and how). There is hardly another person in my life to whom I owe more gratitude. I believe this is a great example of "honesty with a purpose." All those people who told me I sounded good did the right thing: they had no reason to believe that the truth would have done me any good, and they wouldn't have been able to give it to me in a way that would have helped me. That one person who did tell me the truth knew that I was ready for it, and that it would be for the best.
Truth without grace is cruelty. Grace without truth is sentimentality and zero accountability. There has to be a balance between the two. But I think you're leave it overly ambiguous whether you believe that choosing not to say whatever random thought pops into your head is lying. It is most certainly not. Just because you choose not to say something or to temper the way you say it doesn't mean you're lying. In fact, it means that you're sensitive to the fact that your version of events is more likely to be strongly controlled by emotion and atmosphere rather than reason or logic. The truth transcends how one feels about any given situation, and frankly I think people could use a little more practice at self-restraint and remembering that we were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason.
It is not so hard always tell the truth. The problem here is that the "Radical Honesty" movement says that "if you think it, tell it".
Look the 3rd alternative: the silence. If you think that girl fat, you don't need tell her unless that it is requested. As you know that it can be a hard truth, so you can simply to say "I don't want to express my opinion!" (Look, it's the truth!).
My peers know that sometimes I decline to express my opinions (positives or negatives), so my negation to express myself will be not received as negative.
The absurd of the movies that you cited are that the persons says their exact thoughts, snd the thoughts are "supposed" to be truths. Let's say that I say you, "Jeff, you are a nerd!" I'm not telling you the truth, I'm telling you just my opinion! (it can or cannot be truth ;) )
As you mentioned children, I can say that sometimes I state cleary to my children "I prefer your silence that your lies." If you force someone to tell something that he will NOT tell, obviously you forced him to tell the lie, got it? I try to let my son as free as possible to tell me ANYTHING, and I try don't get me shocked or angry. I express my disapproval with serenity, and it works most times.
My last 2 cents, if you really wants "always tell the truth", just training! We tell lies because we learn that lies are the easy way to solve a lot of problems. My golden tip is: "Try one day at time".
Fist say "Today I will try "always tell the truth"". So, pay attention over your day, and when in bed, take notes of your lies and think about solutions without lies. It's fun, you can call your wife and to try get solutions together. It's a nice exercise and you will feel yourself free of that prison that is the lie.
"speaking the truth in love"
(in this context, the word "love" does not imply sexual desire)
I think there's a difference between the truth and brutal honesty.
As the old adage goes, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I think Clickok mentioned the same concept in different words.
"It's been parodied in any number of screwball Hollywood comedies such as... The Invention of Lying (2009)"
I'm going to call you on that. I don't think you've seen it, because if you had, you wouldn't be grouping it with "screwball" Hollywood comedies.
You should watch it. It basically makes the same points and reaches the same conclusions as you do.
I think that every time we lie, we are basically putting up a small barrier from them. When it is someone we don't know or care that much about, it's not a big deal since it won't accumulate because you don't interact with them often. For example, you don't need to tell every overweight passerby you meet in the mall that they should adopt a healthier lifestyle. But the next time you lie (or omit the truth) to your spouse or a close friend about something, take a moment to see what it costs you. Do you feel some guilt or annoyance? All of that adds over time and creates barriers in your relationship.
That exchange between the wife and husband is a poor example of truth because what the husband responds with is not truth but sarcasm. Perhaps instead of asking about the "payoff" the husband could do one of 2 productive but truthful things:
1. Figure out why he is so unwilling to listen to her and explain that. "I had a tough day and it's hard for me to focus on your story"
2. Explain that he doesn't see why she is telling him the story and ask her what the importance of the story is.
You might be thinking… what if she just likes telling stories that have no real purpose… Well, if you were truthful to her the first time this happened and told her that you don't really enjoy listening to stories without points, she probably would have learned not to share unimportant stories, or be more aware of what she is trying to communicate so that the act of sharing can be enjoyed by both sides.
I think this is the real problem with absolute truth: it only works in a world where most people tell themselves and each other the truth all the time. Someone who has bad teeth wouldn't be offended by you telling them that they have bad teeth if they are honest to themselves about it and their closest friends are honest as well. It's the same thing with calling someone fat. It's only bad in a society that judges beauty and character so harshly just based on a person's weight.
I believe that my spouse and I have a 100% truthful relationship. If I wear something that he doesn't like, he tells me that he doesn't like it so that in the future if I'm picking out something that I want to wow him with, I have data to help me. And the best part is that when he says I'm beautiful or I look really fit recently or he's really impressed with the way I handled something, I know it is 100% true, without compromise. That is a wonderful feeling.
I think lying is also a bit culturally based. I'm Dutch and even here in this small country he have fast differences. People from Braband (Southern state) are way more warm and tend to be more nice and lie for good will. I my self grew up in Noord-Holland where the people are more harsh. I tend to be painfully true. If my wife is gone for a day and returns to me she always asks me: "Did you mis me?". I always say: "No", it's simpel: she has not been gone that long to miss her and why lie? Currently she asks the same thing and says after that: "Lie to me". And I do because I love her.
Maybe my European cultural background is too different, but I really don't get why it is better to write "F*ck" than "Fuck".
Is this kind of cognitive dissonance in terms of "I didn't write the bad word, you read it!"?
Lying seems to be a subcultural thing. I've grown up in the "don't lie but don't necessarily tell the whole truth" school, and I don't have any trouble with that - except that I often wonder whether I should be tell more of the whole truth. And I rarely ever wonder whether someone is telling me the truth (except for salesmen. :-)
There have been a couple of times in my life when I felt that I just had to lie (which was very painful), but not I suspect I just hadn't been mature enough. Frankly, I don't really understand what Jeff is advocating lying for.
@UK: some people's web access is limited by filters that scan pages for banned words. Thus the need for euphemisms.
If you're interested, there's a fun SF book called "The Truth Machine" by James L Hauperin, that deals with the same topic (apparently available for free here): http://coins.ha.com/c/content.zx?content=ttm
Scientist invents perfect lie deteector. Changes society. Then the plot thickens a bit...
For me, the interesting part was how business deals were struck in the new world. Buyer said "I can't pay more than X" and seller said "We can't sell cheaper than Y". Note that Y is less than X. Then, they'd negoitiate a middle price.
I recommend it if you're interested. It's fairly short and reads quickly.
I would recommend Sam Harris' book Lying: http://www.samharris.org/lying
It's short and well written and much in the same spirit (from what I gather) that A.J. Jacobs' book.
Telling the truth is not the same thing as telling (usually) biased opinions or sharing one's passing feelings of anger, hate and such with others. Those things are not the truth even though one happens perceive them as true and is utterly convinced of that.
One's mind has been influenced by (actually: fed by) other people's opinions and culturally accepted prejudices even since childhood, starting from when one was only learning the language and completely unable to think independently.
That is true for practically everyone on this planet Earth (and those in the orbit, too). So, who can say that they have given that up and changed to what is really true?
Telling the truth seems to be more of an excuse to act out on one's conditioning and prejudices, without bothering to question them, or - gasp! - to change them.
Of course useful feedback, like the guitar playing case, is completely different. Bad playing, or plainly average playing is not just a matter of taste, as opposed to playing music that you don't like.
Lying is simple and we do it too often because it is convenient. "Honesty with a purpose" takes much more thought and has big benefits for both sides. I am all for a HonestyWithAPurpose movement.
My husband and I have wrestled with this over the last 15 years. There are several problems with 'truth'. One is that the truth is often subjective. Secondly, as in the example of the husband and wife talking above, there is a subtext. Answering the question 'truthfully' frequently misses the subtext, which is often the important part.
In the case of talking to your spouse, the story your wife is telling may well be boring, even to her. What she wants is your attention. She wants the feeling of being listened to. And the content doesn't really matter. In this context, silence is not good. Answering the question truthfully is not good. No one will feel good about the exchange because the subtext is still sitting there. A better approach can be to switch to a topic that you are both (truthfully) interested in. As in "Well, I'm not really interested in the details of that. I'm wondering how we're going to get everything done this weekend." or "how soon we can take the babies out for Thai food", or anything else you might both share an interest in.
The other thing about truth is that there is often a time and place for it. I can't be truthful when my 9 yr old asks me if his piano playing is 'good'. If I say 'your timing sucks', it's absolutely true, but also cruel and out of place. He needs my support in order to keep practicing. At the moment, I'm trying to be very thoughtful and carefully point out at least one good thing and point out only one spot to focus on improving. This is, um, challenging.
The saying what's on your mind thing is a joke. It's touched on in the article with the thing about fantasizing about your wife's sister but seriously, a couple of minutes into every conversation with a woman most men would have to say "I'm imagining having sex with you." I guess if everyone did it all the time then people would get used to it, and maybe in the end it would go without saying. Difficult to see how this is any better though.
"Ultimately all organisms view all other organisms as a means to their own end."
As long as an individual thinks the benefit of saying something (truth or lie) outweighs the cost, they will say it. Any attempt to deeply subvert (e.g. always tell truth) this natural inclination to communicate for personal advantage will fail.
True, if you ignore the fact that there is no such thing as 'truth'.
I think sometimes (lots of times) Jeff just writes to fill up the blog, and I loose my time reading it. And the comments try to fix it. And I'm telling the truth.
It seems like the Radical Honesty movement assumes that because one feels something, or thinks it, then it is true. I feel and think lots of things that are unhelpful, untrue, and just plain wrong.
The movement needs a better definition of truth beyond 'whatever I'm feeling or thinking at the moment.'
I think there's a distinction being missed. It's one thing to lie to someone. It's another to simply choose not to say anything. ("if you don't got nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all", as my mother put it).
Saying every single thought that comes into your head, stream-of-consciousness style, isn't going to get you in trouble for your honesty. It'll get you in trouble because no-one likes a blabbermouth.
Sometimes being honest is good, sometimes not. Always saying the first thing that comes to yor mind is a recipe for trouble in the long term. Sayyou are in the subway and you see a group of young men and you think to yourself "what a worthless pile of human shit that is standing before me." One of them sees you looking at them and makes the typical male ego saving challlenge of "what cha looking at?" If you respond "a worthless pile of human shit", let me know how that works out for you.
Wait! You don't like Vanilla Coke? I love it.
Certainly in the UK I have found that the vast vast vast majority of people believe themselves to be much smarted, talented and skilled than they are. You cannot have a society that is built on truth when it is already held together by a lack of honesty.
I am under no illusions that I am an average web developer at best right now. In 10 years time that may or may not have changed but I find it amazing how easy people find it to genuinely fool themselves into over selling their own abilities.
@ the chap learning guitar for years while everyone was telling him he was amazing. What made you think that you were amazing? Could you play anything put in front of you regardless of complexity or style. Were you able to play like some of the best guitarists around?
I play a lot of sport and I always have done. I played a lot of them at county level when I was younger and what always amazes me is the number of people who think they are good at something simply because everyone around them is shocking. Big fish in a small pond. Having not played badminton for over 10 years since I was 13 I still beat a guy that considered himself a really good player. I know I am not very good any more but even though I was better than him, he though he was great.
I love criticism (as long as it is constructive) as it allows you to improve. I can't help but feel that people must know how good they are at something in most cases, they just don't want to admit it and a lot of people become very defensive when called on it.
Firstly: If I could sign in to comment anonymously, I could be more honest in this comment. Read from that what you will.
I think people end up being defensive when they're honest. Because honesty is painful for the speaker too.
When you speak, people frame what you're saying in their expectations; if I suddenly start being 'honest' about comments to people who are used to a veneer of politeness, they will perceive it far worse.
Some people punish you for honesty; you say something negative and they jump a mile and cry or hate you - they're sensitive or insecure or whatever. These days, I just put up with that. If they're ready for honesty, they're ready. If they play that game, that's their game. The won't get the joy of honesty.
As others have pointed out, what we think are not truths but opinions, or feelings. So when you 'share' your 'truth' you might need to warn them that that's what you're saying. I think honesty is not an absolute concept in the mind.
Honesty is something to edge towards, for me, with people that can take it. Most people can't.
I find it interesting that people tend to talk about "The Truth", when there are usually a near-infinite number of Truths (plural) active at any given time around a given situation. They're subjective as @Skiihne pointed out, and part of what we consider free will is exercised in choosing which version to let past our teeth. Even a direct question like "do I suck at playing guitar?" has a huge number of "truthful" answers that may sound contradictory, based on the responder's own knowledge of guitar, musical taste, mood, interpretation of the talent pool the questioner wants to be compared against, etc.
so my personal goal, which I see as being very different from the radical truthiness described above, is to avoid lying, enjoy my freedom to choose the truth that's the best representation of how I feel towards the person I'm communicating with, and be sure that whatever I say is something I would stand behind regardless of whose ears that information made its way to.
...and by "lying", I mean "stating or implying the truth of something I *know* to be false"
An old piece of wisdom "Speak the truth in love".
I'm reminded of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "truth that is not spoken in love becomes a lie." Truth, in the meaningful human sense, is bigger than whether something is factual or an accurate depiction of your feelings at the moment. I think the latter is really what is being discussed here, and that's not really what honesty is about so much. As an earlier commenter noted that kind of "truth" without grace can simply be cruelty.
There was an interesting story on NPR (http://www.npr.org/2012/05/01/151764534/psychology-of-fraud-why-good-people-do-bad-things?ps=cprs) the other day about how people end up committing fraud. Often it's in the service of what they perceive to be helping others—cutting people more slack than they should with rules, fudging results to help a friend or family member, etc. No one ever starts by saying "I'm going to be a liar today." It's easier to lie in that circumstance than to hold on to some abstract principle like "loans should only be given to worthy people" and "lower emissions will save the environment." Everyone imagines he or she has altruistic or "good" reasons to be dishonest, but it's exactly that sort of untruthfulness, practiced on a mass scale, that ends up wrecking economies and polluting the earth.
So you don't have to always say exactly what's on your mind. But honesty can mean looking "mean" and "hurtful" sometimes.
April Fool's! Oh, no, it's May 1st. Then I don't get it. What does this have to do with coding? Maybe it's an illustration of how painfully wrong smart people can be in areas outside their expertise? Anyway, sorry if I missed something, but your post looks embarrassingly naive to me, and had me reaching for my book of Oscar Wilde quotes.
The one I can't find was something like:
Lady: Let me be perfectly honest with you.
Oscar Wilde: God forbid!
(But no doubt better said).
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Also, this Jewish proverb:
Truth is the safest lie.
Your assertion is self contradictory. You assert there is no "truth". Is your assertion "truth"?
@Dan it's as true as your sense of humor
Okay, let me take a crack at this Radical Honesty thing.
I resent you for oversimplifying the original article.
I typed out a long bit about how lying lets you harbor very uncharitable opinions, and that to just stop lying isn't enough. You need to stop being so damned judgmental and attempt to help people.
Then I read the article, and Brad actually says something similar farther down. That lying to someone when you think their stuff is crap is "avoiding your responsibility as one human being to another. [...] don't bullshit yourself about it being kind."
I think you've missed the important bits here.
I always tell the truth. I recognized early on (10 or 11 years old) that always telling the truth is the best policy, even if it has temporary negative consequences, which I credit to having a good Christian teaching from my parents (not only telling me right from wrong, but WHY they are the way they are above and beyond mere commands).
I live my life in such a way that I can speak the truth at any time, and not be afraid of consequences. There are a exceptions, and those take the form of simply not saying anything, saying "I won't talk about that," or letting people believe what they want to believe.
Even though Christ never lied or even entertained the idea of lying, He didn't up and say whatever he thought at all times. That's not lying, that's being silent (in front of your accusers).
Finally, let me point out that lying, while simply defined as "conveying a non-truth with the intent to deceive," (without the intent to deceive, it is sarcasm or joking) is wrong because it benefits the liar at the expense of the person told the lie (in some amount, possibly insignificant). The Bible shows at least two examples where an individual or group were rewarded by God after they told a direct lie at immense risk to themselves for the sake of a third party who was being harmed by the person lied to. So there may be an argument for morally good lies.
You don't have to lie to have discretion in what you decide to say. Always tell the truth.
Saying every thought that enters your mind is a totally different subject. My 3 year old does that, and believe me, she (and all of us) will be better off when her "filter" activates. It's entertaining, but not productive.
In Buddhism, one of the training precepts is to avoid 'False' speech. I think that it sits somewhere short of radical honestly. Speak the truth, but know when to stop. Speak only when it does not harm you or others. Solid advice.
I'll reply with an excerpt from Mark Twain's essay On the Decay of the Art of Lying:
None of us could _live_ with an habitual truth-teller; but thank goodness none of
us has to. An habitual truth-teller is simply an impossible creature; he does
not exist; he never has existed. Of course there are people who _think_ they
never lie, but it is not so--and this ignorance is one of the very things that
shame our so-called civilization. Everybody lies--every day; every hour;
awake; asleep; in his dreams; in his joy; in his mourning; if he keeps his
tongue still, his hands, his feet, his eyes, his attitude, will convey
deception--and purposely. Even in sermons--but that is a platitude.
Lying is universal--we _all_ do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us
diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with
a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others' advantage, and not our
own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully,
maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily;
to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously,
with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then shall we
be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall
we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even
benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.
I'll avoid the wrath of the spam filter by not linking to it, but a copy is easily found by searching the name.
Radical Honesty. Man, I hope I never meet one of these douche nozzles.
Let someone be radically honest with me and embarrass me and you will find someone with a broken face. And I suspect, if most of you were honest with yourselves about it, you would react teh same way.
Imagine you are standing in line at the Movie theater and one of these radically honest assholes says "sir, I have to say, your children are the ugliest kids I have ever seen. I say this because I am radically honest and feel the need to say everything that comes into my head.".
My first, and last reaction, is to beat every single thought of his/her head. There are countless reasons to not speak the whole truth and I can think of no reasons EVER to just speak out whats on your mind. If every did this you would find out just how ugly people truly are.
Its a terrible concept thought up by a bunch of sub-culture assholes.
I tend to be honest most of the time, withholding what could be insulting. If I was radically honest I would lose my job, quite easily. Think of the movie Yes Man and the conclusion there, be open, but think for yourself. Same applies to telling the truth / lying.
Radical Honestly is flawed due to a number of factors:
* Truth is not absolute
"Always tell the truth" assumes that 'truth' is absolute. In reality very few things are always 'true'.
Therefore most of the time we are not expressing 'truth' we are expressing a temporal thought restrained by a given context. In simple terms "an opinion" (as Clickok stated).
* Context Exhaustion
Surely to be honest you really need to place every statement in context. To say to someone:
"You are fat"
May not capture your true opinion.
Are you fat or obese?
Are you fat compared to someone else?
Are you phat ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=PHAT )
It is when a statement is placed in context that the opinion becomes clear(er)
"You are fat compared to Keira Knightley"
However providing context is extremely exhausting as so much of the spoken word assumes the listener/s shares a common context (which is often a false assumption in itself)
* The spoken word is ambiguous
This is especially true in English
Some (most?) of these examples of truth are not.
@VickyLiu nailed it.
"Well...is there a payoff?" is not the truth. It is a loaded attack that hides what you trully feel and want. An honest response would look like this: "I feel exhausted from helping our son with homework. While I love listening to you, I would prefer not to hear the story right now."
By redefining the truth as inappropriate obnoxiousness we allow ourselves to avoid the anxiety of being honest about our emotional experience. Honesty is not an attack on the other person, it is ego-less curiosity, a vulnerable exploration of our feelings. And it is core to amazing relationships!
Everything you say should be true
...but you don't have to say everything true.
There are two different concepts at play here and confusion between the two is muddying the discussion. The first is the concept that distinguishes the honesty in a piece of communication: truth vs. a lie. The second is the concept that distinguishes the honesty of evaluation: truth vs. fantasy.
In the latter case, it's how we approach the world around us that matters most. Are we honest about reality and do we deal with what actually is, or do we evade the truth and live in a world of pretense? In this regard, honesty--even what I might call a radical commitment to honesty--is absolutely essential. If we want to better anyone's life, our own or another's, we have to deal with the world as it is; fantasy and dreams don't help. Which is not to say that we may always know the truth, or even that we know enough to know where to look for the truth, but that we embrace a radical commitment to discovering--as honestly as we can--what that truth is. It's a commitment to not let fantasy intrude on reality.
The social aspect of honesty--what lies and truths we tell each other depends heavily on how committed we are to the first, more fundamental principle of how we relate to the world. If we are committed to truth then we recognize the enormous value--and vulnerability--of our relationships and so we treat those relationships with care. And, just as important, we recognize that not all relationships are equal. We don't share our secret fears with the bagger at the Piggly Wiggly because the context of that relationship makes such intimacy inappropriate. We don't tell a child that her piano skills "suck," because in the context of development and education, relative progress in skill is more important than absolute talent.
It's a simple truth that context matters.
What you tell your child after piano lessons (or soccer practice, or while they struggle with homework) depends on the particular context: what do you want your child to take from this moment? What does your your child ~need~ to take from this moment? False praise? Encouraging words? Assurance that next time will be easier? A careful warning that next time might not be so easy? A gentle reminder to pay attention? Or maybe they need to sit their but in the chair, stop whining, and do the work already!
Maybe you're wife's sister is smokin' hot or maybe you're just a sleazebag. Maybe you're attraction to her is damaging your marriage and it really would be better if you said something. Or maybe you're just a sleazebag. Maybe you're not interested in your wife's pointless story. But is it a lie to pretend to care about the story, or a lie to give her the impression that you never care about her stories?
A commitment to honesty, real honesty, demands that we pay attention to the context around us. Honesty demands both that we deal as truthfully with our own motives as we do with the motives of others. It's easy to hide behind a lie. It's even easier when you believe the lie to be true, but that's a failing of the worst kind.
To the point about talking to others being less fatiguing: i've been lying to my family for the last six years, and it's pretty easy by now. Or i just don't tell certain family members anything, and then that's even easier. They don't seem to notice, or are they just telling me they don't notice?...
I think a more useful construct would be to teach people how to deal with the truth. I think this would lessen the social pressure to lie. For example, if you know that your friend isn't going to develop a deep resentment towards you when you tell him that he sucks at guitar (because he knows how to deal with the truth), then you are more likely to tell him.
I also think there are ways to deliver the truth without being insensitive to people's feelings. I find showing is a great way. For example, going with the guitar example, get your friend around examples of great guitar players--people who have truly mastered the art. And if he really wants to learn, he will naturally want to be like at least one of of those masters. To do that he has to shape his practice and training around them and their habits--and perfect practice makes perfect.
Kantian ethics says that One must always tell the truth, similar to the Radicle Honesty. I think the simplest rebuttle to this is: If an ax murder shows up, ax in hand, at your door step and asks where your friend is, and you know where your friend is because they are in your house, then I must tell the murder where they are. Certainly, it would seem, life is important, and perhaps in this instance I think that life is more important then truth.
We don't only have the duty of truth telling: we also have a duty to life, I feel that Where we can save a life we aught not to tell the truth if the truth would directly lead to the death of someone. Thus we have the duty to learn to lie, and thus save lifes.
Dear Mr. Atwood,
I am a huge fan of your blog, you have helped me in my career tremendously....
but how dare you besmirch vanilla coke.
Keep up the good work my friend!
The stupidest thing about this idea is the "Wouldn't it be great if you spent less time thinking about whether the person is being untruthful?"
Because it assumes implicitly that
* Your adherence to "Truth" automatically means that others would adhere to the tenets
* That all people are capable of telling truth from lies (personality disorders, etc.)
* That people capable of telling truth from lies would consider your truth a truth and not a lie (politics, philosophies, religion, etc.)
* That it's possible to narrow down solid Truths, as mentioned earlier the incapacity most people have towards opinion.
The only caution needed with truth is in the situations in which the audience is not prepared for criticism. Although it is a delicate task at times, it does not change the fact that telling the truth all the time is a reasonable goal. It just requires the desire and a little creativity.
Silence can speak for itself, almost as much as actions do, so use it as necessary to get what we need to get done.
i make it a point to always tell the truth or hold my tongue. i hold my tongue a LOT though. i feel there are times though when it is reasonable to lie:
* if the lie will protect someones life (no, im not hiding jews)
* if the lie will protect a friend who has confided in you (if you prove you cannot be confided in, people wont confide in you and in turn won't trust you as much)
times i consider unreasonable:
* if the lie serves only to protect myself (except to protect my life)
* if the lie serves only to protect someone's feelings.
basically i take the vulcan approach to lying.
I have experienced a Radical Honesty follower first hand in a relationship. From someone I loved I now can't even be bothered to acknowledge them. My experience of the change in this person was a loving person to that of a 'truthteller' WHEN it suited them, they cheated on me on more than one occasion, and thought because they would tell me afterwards it was cool, because they told the truth! Truth is truth, when it becomes radical truth, 'radical' takes preference and diminishes the value of truth...
I agree with your point and also with most of the comments.
I read Radical Honesty and had the same feeling.
But them I read "Practicing Radical Honesty" and most of my doubts were answered (not as I expected).
I practice it, not all the time as I still have to work on discomfort.
However, I saw that practicing it literally improved relationships (close and also acquaintances).
In the second book Blanton gives solutions and explanations regarding most of the objections. I think the first book presents a seductive concept, you're right. The second one makes the seductive work, and polishes a bit the concept so it works in real life.
Really recommend the second book. Read it and let me/us know what you thought about it.