Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On the best policy

Okay, so I'm going to try to bring Practically Harmless back from the dead, because I crave attention and external validation and am not getting a lot of it at work. I spend a lot of time bored and unproductive, and I may well be able to take some of that time to produce something halfway worthwhile. I may also decide that being lazy is easier for me than being un-bored, and I'll just let the blog languish and die the way I did before. There's no telling.

Just being honest.

Honesty is my new thing. I've become addicted to a new show with Tim Roth, Lie to Me, which is so good it's bound to be canceled. The show is about (in short) a guy who can consistently tell if people are lying by their facial expressions and vocal stress. One of the characters is an assistant who practices "radical honesty," in which he always tells the complete truth and never holds anything back ("I would like to sleep with you," he says to a woman in one exchange).

From the beginning, I thought the concept was interesting. Then I read that the average person tells three lies in a ten-minute conversation (I'm sure that number rises in the workplace). Thinking back, I realized that I probably equivocate, fudge, embroider, or full-out lie at least that much, if not more; I'm a writer, to begin with, and I definitely hate my job, which means I lie every time someone asks, "How's your day?" I decided it was time to try the honesty thing, and I chose yesterday, a Monday, one of the toughest days of the week, to try it.

Honestly (and I just realized that "honestly" is a thing that liars say a lot, but it stays), it was kind of a let-down. I didn't really come into contact with anyone but The Boyfriend for the first several hours, and I tend to be unflinchingly honest with him. Then I was commenting on a blog and found myself... cleaning. Not flat-out lying, but editing my comment to eliminate details that may raise off-topic issues on the comment thread or be less pertinent to the topic. And that didn't fall into the category of radical honesty. So I wrote myself a note.

The next test came during a conversation with my mother at lunchtime. I feel comfortable not disclosing the entirety of the conversation on this blog, because I feel that my efforts to always be me-honest don't extend to outing other people and being them-honest. But at one point, the conversation veered in a direction that had me almost making a comment that would take us to the topic of sex, and that's not one that you really want to discuss with your mother. But it was in my head, and I had to do it.

There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. And then, "Well, I don't want to completely gross you out here with the idea of your parents in that situation, but... yeah, I'm kind of going through that, too."

And we ended up having a lengthy and illuminating conversation about not just that but other topics about relationships and habits and a dozen other things. That first moment after I let it out was fairly scary, but the fact that I did let it out opened up a new depth of discourse that we might not have found otherwise. Pat on the back to me.

Buoyed by that experience, I decided to keep going. I found myself in an elevator with two coworkers who said, in response to my polite inquiry, "Proud to be here. How are you?"

"I have nothing to do at work, and I'm really bored. I'd rather be at home."

Again, a brief silence. They looked at each other. I explained the radical honesty thing, and they nodded and advised me that it could be kind of dangerous in the workplace. I told them it was something I'd considered. They still looked a bit concerned on my behalf, but one of them did comment that that kind of honesty could make staff meetings a lot more interesting. Maybe it's something I need to try.

I continued being bored at work - I only have a few things to do, and it's reasonable to try and stretch them out so I don't find myself with no billable hours one day, but a lot of my slacking off is because I just don't care - and then another coworker came in with some work. She explained it, and I nodded, and she asked if I had any questions or notes.

"I'll get to it, but it really seems kind of pointless. The notes [our boss] gave to us are pretty much entirely contrary to the creative direction we were given in the beginning, I don't think it's going to resonate with our target market, and it doesn't really matter anyway, because [the client] is going to make so many changes it's going to be unrecognizable by the time we deliver. But I'm at a place right now where I'll just do whatever y'all want."

She kind of laughed and agreed, because we've bitched about such things before, but it felt good to be completely forthright and sincere about it. Would I have the stones to say such a thing to our boss if she asked? Wouldn't radical honesty dictate that I tell her whether or not she asked? Good questions. I'll let you know if it comes up. I did bill seven hours to "Other" on my time sheet instead of spreading it around to "Training" and "Clerical" like I usually do, so that conversation may come up sooner than I'd like.

The rest of the day was fairly quiet on the honesty front. There was one conversation with The Boyfriend where I was obliged to say something I usually kept to myself ("I think that a lot of the time, you're not really thinking about 'education' when you impart your 'educational experiences'"), but he took it in the spirit in which it was intended and there wasn't any real conflict because of it.

Later that evening, though, he said, out of nowhere, "It kind of bothers me that you don't think my 'educational experiences' are actually about education." I told him that it was merely my opinion and that I couldn't really know his thought processes at the time. He admitted that sometimes he couldn't either.

And that was that. I came out with one more unsolicited revelation - that the dog (who had been playing enthusiastically with a friend's dogs and came out of it with a limp) needed veterinary attention and I knew it, but that I was afraid of asking my boss for any more time off to take him to the vet - and there wasn't a lot more controversial conversation. I went to bed kind of disappointed that it wasn't more difficult, that my ability to come straight out with the truth wasn't challenged more. That's when I decided to take it to Day Two.

Things I discovered on Day One: A couple of times, I really had to pause for a moment before answering a question, because I had to think of what the truth really was. I spend so much time delivering pat, inoffensive answers that coming up with the truth took actual effort. I also discovered that being honest can bring out things in other people that you'd never seen before and that other people often respond to your honesty with honesty of their own. I also discovered that the prospect of sitting down with my boss and giving her the straight poop scares the crap out of me.

And that's the God's honest truth.

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