Radical or Rigorous? Honesty

One of the tenets of recovery is honesty. You’ve got to stop lying to yourself and lying to others. You have to clear away the wreckage of your past and make amends whenever possible. There’s something very cathartic about living without lying. It’s different when you’re trying to be pure and clean and good. Isn’t that a nice image? But being honest can also be raw and exposed and vulnerable, which is not quite as nice. Or it can be mean and destructive. Think, “Hey, babe, your breath stinks,” or “Yes those jeans do make your ass look fat”

Years ago I read a book called Radical Honesty. The idea was to live without lying, like the character Loker in “Lie to Me” during season one. It’s an appealing philosophy. But I thought then, as I do now, that there was a mean edge to that kind of “radical honesty.” There’s an article at http://www.esquire.com/features/honesty0707 where the author of that book is interviewed. I thought he sounded like a jerk.

There’s another book I read more recently that I like much, much better. It’s called The Truth Machine. It’s a science fiction novel that wonders what the world would be like if we could always tell when someone is lying. I just love that book because in it, people figure out a way how to be honest and decent, all at the same time.

In the novel, there’s a truth machine (duh) that gets invented. Eventually, it’s produced in a small enough version that we can all wear one on our wrists. It shows a green light when the truth is being told, and just like a stop light, yellow and red indicate levels of deception. As you can imagine it revolutionizes our world.

So I guess what I think is that rigorous honesty is good and radical honesty is not.



  1. I think the only people we’re trying to prevent from hurting by “not saying anything” or “trying to put it tactfully” -is usually ourselves.

    For instance, pretend I’ve a girlfriend that asks, “How do I look?”
    -and the truth is I think she looks “fat and unattractive”
    …why not tell the truth? -Because her feelings might get hurt?

    -Here’s a question to ponder:
    Should we avoid hurting people’s feelings ALL the time?
    ..CAN we even do that?

    And if the answer is “No, we shouldn’t avoid it ALL the time”
    –then doesn’t that imply that we’re just saying “I don’t wanna hurt their feelings” as an excuse?
    (after all -we don’t avoid it every time -so why are we avoiding it this time?)

    …Consider this: when I used to mow the lawn for my Dad, he would sometimes inform me that I was doing it inefficiently -and then he’d usually offer advice.
    -Usually, though -my feelings were hurt after he informed me I wasn’t doing a job as well as he liked it done.
    –Was it wrong for him to tell me he thought I was doing an inefficient job?
    He told me he thought I could be more efficient.
    -From that I learned to look for ways to improve.
    —My feelings were hurt -but for the sake of learning and growth, it was worth it to experience the temporary pain of hurt feelings.

    So, if we can agree that sometimes “hurting people’s feelings” shouldn’t entirely be avoided
    –then WHY do we avoid saying CERTAIN things that we think “might hurt someone’s feelings”?

    Idea… maybe we’re afraid that We’ll get into an uncomfortable position.
    -Maybe we’re really trying to protect Ourselves from feeling hurt..

    We avoid saying something that might be unpleasant for another person to hear -because they might get upset and distressed -which, in turn, will make us upset and distressed.
    (even though getting upset and distressed are natural parts of learning)

    We’re not REALLY trying to protect others. -We’re trying to protect ourselves -and then using “I don’t wanna hurt their feelings” as an excuse to avoid saying something which could put US in an uncomfortable situation.

    We turn “Avoiding sharing accurate information, because we’re scared of being hurt” into “Nobility”. -Clever humans, we are. 😛

    • I agree that sometimes when we’re worried about telling the truth we’re really worried about ourselves. We don’t want to look uncaring, or we don’t want to deal with the fallout we believe the truth will cause.

      I was going to say that if someone believed their girlfriend to be fat and unattractive, it would be mean to say so when asked. But digging deeper, I think that if a person thinks their girlfriend is fat and unattractive, then they’ve been lying for a long time, to themselves and to their girlfriend.

      In my own life, when I’m at the top of my game, I try to answer what I’m REALLY being asked. “Do I look fat in these pants?” usually means “Do you love me? Am I okay? Should I change?” Hiam Ginnott’s books address this beautifully.

      A child that mows the lawn will be better served (in my opinion) by a frank assessment of reality. “The grass is even and short, just the way I like it. You worked hard for several hours. I wonder if there’s a way that you can get the same results with less time?” That’s all true and much more positive than having the inefficiency pointed out. The guy that wrote the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey had a nice little vignette with a grass mowing story that did a much better job of illustrating my point.

      If your girlfriend or wife asks whether or not a pair of pants makes her look fat, try asking for a cue card. After 25 years of marriage that’s what works for me and my husband. It’s our shorthand way of saying, “Could you please check and see what you really need from me because this feels like I’m walking into a trap and I’m not sure what to say.”

      So in a circuitous way, I guess I believe that we all need to play by the same rules. If we’re going to be truthful, then we need to be truthful in our asking.

  2. I have found in my recovery that I am just honest and when the honesty may be hurtful as can be the case I have learned through practice to just not say anything.

    My first sponsor told me if I could not tell the truth or if the truth may be too painful or ridiculous, just be quiet. That works for me because you are right and sadly sometimes people use the guise of “being honest’ to equate with being mean legitimized…being mean is never necessary. I remember this;
    Is it true
    Is it necessary
    Is it kind…
    there we go.

    Great post and going to have to get to my library for that book!!!

  3. Ever see the movie, “The Invention of Lying”? Same story, a world without lies and then a man unthinkingly invents lying for a “good cause”. Makes you think.

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