What Happens When You Just Get Honest About Your Life
I read a story several months ago about a guy who tried to start a radical honesty movement. He founded this group by refusing to lie, or hide, about even the smallest of things. He’d criticize any bad breath he smelled, and he would tell his waitress he was attracted to her. He would give the most blunt, painful feedback about everything to everyone, no matter how much it hurt them. He refused to have a filter and it cost him dearly. After several failed marriages and businesses, he now mostly just keeps to himself.
I pitied his stupidity. I also felt mildly envious, too.
We all know the kind of world we’re living in, and the kinds of illusions we maintain. We pretend that the snide comments of others don’t affect us, and their demands don’t inconvenience our own plans. We act like everything is fine when it isn’t. We try to project a certain “togetherness” that instills confidence in other people. We want our coworkers and our church friends to know we are Okay.
Being Okay is our standard mode. It’s our neutral gear when we pop the clutch out at a stoplight. Other acceptable gears include, “Doing Good”, “We’re Fine”, and “Not Too Bad”.
We can, of course, complain about our busyness and stress. Perhaps, if something tragic happens, we can mention that we’re going through a “hard time”. But we must, above all, give off the impression that we are on our way Up and Out of whatever difficulty we’re facing.
This isn’t because other people are superficial: it’s because we’ve decided to bear our burdens on our own. Community isn’t about support or encouragement anymore–it’s about escaping from our personal problems.
We live in a dishonest age. Our culture craves authenticity yet nobody wants to go first. It’s especially messy to be vulnerable, and being vulnerable only counts if you’re going to continue doing it. How do we even know how to be original when we don’t know how to see ourselves? If we stop pretending and filtering everything, are we suddenly authentic? Or are we just moving our mess from the inside out?
Radical honesty must be more than just our unfiltered feelings and opinions.
But what does it look like to live differently?
Do we just start spouting off our worst impulses to strangers and hope for the best? Do we hijack the family reunion and turn it into our own personal therapy session? Do we rant and rave on Facebook and hope someone posts a cat meme to cheer us up?
How do we do honesty in a healthy way?
It’s radically counter-cultural. It’s going to be painful and awkward at first. But becoming a person of honesty is the only way to build genuine trust.
Here’s what I do.
1. I CONFESS MY INNER WORLD TO SOMEONE I ALREADY TRUST.
You need to take your relationships to the next level.
I mean, specifically, with the people you look up to.
Most people wouldn’t call themselves “isolated” or “selfish”. But they always take their own advice, and they always diagnose their own problems. Sure, they might ask their friends or parents for an opinion. But in the end, they “follow their own path”.
And then they wonder why the people they look up to aren’t rubbing off on them.
Vulnerability is trendy, but I think it needs to go a step deeper. I think we need to start sharing the reality of our inner world with the people we trust. We need to keep our openness flowing so our honesty flows like a river, instead of ocassionally bursting the dam.
I don’t just admit to my shortcomings. I admit to my ugly motivations and thoughts, too.
Everybody needs a ground floor in their life. Most people don’t pour a foundation because they haven’t dug down and found the bedrock yet. Only confession can do this. If you trust someone, and if they’re willing to walk with you by creating a safe place for you, then you should do the hard ongoing work of confession with them.
2. I REFUSE TO PUT THE MASK ON AGAIN.
When you start to open up to someone, you're always tempted to go back to your false self. There is a version of you, in your mind, who obsesses over your self-image, and you must be careful not to hire him back as your publicist ever again.
Some people, like me, do this by justifying myself, or by rationalizing my best intentions. I preface the things I say by what I’m not trying to say, and I dance around being direct in my opinions. I don’t say I’m angry. I say, “I’m just a bit frustrated.” I don’t say I screwed up. I say, “I might have dropped the ball a little bit–but don’t worry, I’m already turning things around!”
Other people have a different sort of mask. They use their newfound freedom as permission to be harsh and blunt about everything. Now that they don’t have to pretend, they begin to play another part: someone who is no longer sensitive to the needs or perceptions of others.
While this kind of honesty–in the right relationship–is good for a season, you just can't sustain it. These people are still hiding. They’re just using their honesty as a weapon to create space for themselves. Others use sarcasm, or cynicism in the same way.
True vulnerability, though, always goes even deeper. Honesty isn’t a weapon or a tool. True honesty doesn’t need to dress up, or dress others down.
True honesty is the quest for a pure soul.
Instead of flying off the handle and ranting about how that person made you feel, can you get honest about why their behaviour feels so threatening?
Instead of just confessing your worst impulses to your trusted friends, are you willing to confess how those ugly things started growing in your heart in the first place?
Instead of using confession as a way to rebuild your own life, will you allow the excavation to go another layer deeper? Instead of casting yourself as the hero, will you let another person’s voice tell you what sort of character you are?
3. I LISTEN TO OTHERS BEFORE I TALK TO MYSELF.
In the end, I realized my own ideas about who I am were broken and incomplete. I knew I would always come up short of figuring myself out.
The person I have the hardest time being honest with is myself. Even when I think I know who I am, I don’t.
I realized the whole point of being this open with others was so that I could do the tough work of really listening to them. I needed to let go so their perception could guide me into a better way of living.
I would say, “I just get so angry about that.”
And they would say, “Do you? I don’t see you as an angry person.”
I would say, “I guess I’ll always have to struggle with this character flaw.”
And they would say, “I don’t think that’s who you are.”
I would say, “I’m trapped, and helpless!” Or, “I just feel so inadequate!”
And they would say, “No, you’re not.”
They wouldn't offer a counter-argument or try to convince me. And it wasn't like they didn't know enough to make a judgement. They already knew everything.
And I would have to decide–do I trust their judgement of me, or do I only trust myself?
Do I want to prove them wrong, and keep labelling myself this way? Or do I want to believe in the way they see me–and mistrust the way I see myself?
Radical honesty is the necessary first step towards being your authentic self. But it only helps you if you’re walking with others who have as much right to define who you are as you do.
“You”, in any meaningful sense, cannot exist apart from others. It just simply doesn’t work. The kind of freedom we crave–the freedom to be ourselves, the freedom to know ourselves–this is only something we can find in the loving affirmation of others.