The Pluses and Minuses of Radical Honesty

Honesty as a concept and a practice fascinates me; it’s something I use to guide my words and decisions whenever possible—I think the same is true for most folks. What makes radical honesty such a thorny construct is whether and when we use it (with ourselves or others). Too much honesty can result in hurt feelings or distorted understandings, often permanently changing the dynamics between two people. But then, there are circumstances where nothing less than radical honesty is right if the purpose is to serve the highest and best interests of the listener. A tricky business, indeed.

When was the last time someone was radically honest with you? How did that feel?

On the occasions when someone has summoned the courage to be radically honest with me, I’ve felt grateful because I recognize the risk they took in sharing their impressions. Whether I agreed with them or not, their words shook me from my regular train of thought. Now, I happen to be someone who vastly prefers clear cut communication, but I’m no masochist and certainly don’t relish being taken down a peg or two without some sort of cushion. A big difference between a re-booter and a narcissist is that we’re willing to hear it; we’re willing to consider whether the other person’s perspective may be accurate. It’s a highly useful counter check to the wildness of our own imaginings…

Do you have people in your life who you can trust like this? Have you told them how grateful you are for their friendship?

Being able to withstand or to offer up radical honesty is not for the faint of heart. It requires a great deal of self confidence because of the risk involved when telling (or hearing) something that might be very unwelcome. We don’t always get it right, either. There have been times when I thought I had the sort of relationship that could handle such an exchange and I was patently wrong. A few relationships didn’t survive, but others strengthened considerably–it’s a crap shoot. And sad as I have been about the ones I lost, I also came around to the understanding that they were never what I thought they were to begin with.

Can you think of a time when a relationship broke under apart as a result of such stress? Looking back, what insights have you gleaned from this? How has such knowledge influenced your relationships going forward?

Of course, the vast majority of our friendships do not demand radical honesty—how we typically interact with those in our circles doesn’t require this sort of exchange. What others do in their lives can’t make that much difference to us. Their decisions, their business, right?

I’m not totally sure where I am going with this, except a general rumination on the concept of radical honesty. As a re-booter, I believe there are only a few occasions when being brutally honest serves a constructive purpose, and only if the recipient has solicited such feedback. Offering unsolicited opinions is nearly always a bad decision. Most of the time what we believe doesn’t matter, no matter how well intentioned we may be. Most folks don’t want to know.

How about you? In your heart of hearts, how strong are you to hear something threatening or unwelcome? And when, in the past, have you done so? Have you practice radical honesty with somebody else? Did that turn out to be a good decision…or not?

Making choices


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