Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On a policy that is, if not best, at least pretty good

"Regular honesty is for pussies. I'd still like to sleep with you, though."

Okay, so today marked Day Two of my "radical honesty" experiment, and honestly (see what I did there?), it was kind of a letdown. When you're exploring a new resolve, there's this urgency about being tested, about not eating the doughnut in the breakroom or working out in the morning even when you're tired or not snorting that rail of coke even when the stripper's behind is right there in front of you. If it's always easy, you feel like it's not worthwhile.

There's another thing, though: Being totally honest makes you feel kind of like a dick. It did for me, anyway. The things we keep to ourselves usually aren't the good things; no one sits around thinking, "Wow, I really like her shoes. Those are great shoes. God, I wish I could tell her. She needs to know how great her shoes are." And then they finally let it slip, and it's all, "Okay, I'm sorry, I wasn't going to say this, but those are really awesome shoes. I like the strap across the instep... Whew. Whoa. I'm really glad I got that out. Whew. That felt kind of good, actually. Wow."

No, the stuff we never say is the stuff that might be painful to take, like, "Those are awesome shoes, and if you could just fix that jacked-up blouse, you'd look great," or, "I wish you'd get bedroom furniture, because your room, as it is, really needs some furniture." And saying that, for some people, might be a relief, a release of something they've been holding inside for some interminable time. For me, it just makes me feel like a dick, because it sounds like bitching and it wasn't that big a deal in the first place. It's just spitting negativity out there with no other purpose than to stick to a doctrine.

So I think this is where the Radical Honesty Experiment ends. It hasn't challenged me all that much, and it's made me feel like a bad person. Plus, as The Boyfriend has pointed out, it can have some seriously career-limiting implications, and I think that not being unemployed and living in a refrigerator box and feeding my dog cold ramen noodles is worth the occasional white lie.

That's not to say the experiment was a failure, though. Far from it, in fact. The conversation I had with my mom the other day was a good indication that I don't always trust people to take things the way I intend them. I should have more faith in the people I'm close to that if I throw out some potentially controversial topic, they can handle it. Remembering that may lead to some interesting and illuminating discussions that I might not otherwise have.

Also enlightening was that pause that occasionally came between the question and the honest answer. If I have to stop for even a moment to think up the truth, it means that my stock answers tend to be the not-truth. That's not to say that the absolute truth is always an appropriate answer, but actually considering a question before going to the stock throwaway answer could be a beneficial exercise.

Also enlightening was the number of times I gave the absolute, brutal truth and no one raised an eyebrow. It made me realize how many times I do, in fact, give the unvarnished truth about things and people don't realize it because they think I'm being funny. It's kind of sad that we're so unused to people telling us the truth that when we hear it, we think it must be a joke. And I don't know what to do about that. Maybe work on my delivery.

One more enlightening--and gratifying--discovery was that I don't actually lie all that much. I'm sure I'm still well in compliance with the three-lies-in-ten-minutes average, but I tend to be more likely to fudge details than fundamentals. And that's something that's easy to work on.

So those are my takeaways from an ultimately valuable experiment. Trust the people close to me to be able to accept honesty. Give the unvarnished truth where possible, and varnish it where necessary. Be open and honest where possible, but don't just barf out negativity for its own sake. Answer questions like they mean something, even if it doesn't seem like they do. Keep people's feelings in mind. Bill my slack-off time like everyone else does, because doing otherwise makes me a target.

And I'm keeping the note, for a couple of days, anyway. It's a good reminder that honesty, when not "radical," is a good place to start.

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