Late last year I went to a wedding where I didn’t know anyone. I mean, I knew the bride and groom — I’m not a psycho who lurks around reception venues throwing back sparkling wine and hoarding strangers’ bonbonierres. But the rest of the guests who I was seated with were complete strangers.
In my experience, these kind of situations usually follow a predictable pattern: everyone makes polite small talk. We all compliment the food and comment on how beautiful the bride is. It’s pleasant and socially appropriate. It’s slightly dull.
But not that night. Instead of the polite, “So, how do you know the bride and groom?” my table of strangers declared the conversation would open a little differently. The rule was, you had to state your name, and the most interesting thing about you.
When it came to the man seated opposite me, he took a breath, and with a smile – and I daresay a twinkle in his eye- said:
‘I realised last year I’ve been massively depressed, I have been battling anxiety my whole life and didn’t know it. Last year I wanted to end my life, but I’m on meds now so things are way better.’
*takes sip of sparkling*
I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. On the outside, I smiled. I think. But on the inside I was thinking, ‘Holy shitballs — that is the most honest thing I have heard anyone say. EVER.’
And then I found myself thinking, 'How f***ing refreshing.'
I don’t know whether it was in his delivery, or just the brutal honesty of it. But rather than pour cold water on the night, it did the opposite; it ripped everyone from the safe, warm and slightly dull place of polite small talk, and provoked Big Talk. The conversation went straight to deeper, better places. Ideas. Ethics. Vulnerabilities. Love. Death. His honesty was this magic conversation elixir that I couldn’t get enough of.
A few days later – still thinking about this night – I read about a concept called Radical Honesty. It’s a technique and self-improvement program developed by a psychotherapist, Brad Blanton, who believes that plain speaking, good old fashioned honesty is what we’re missing in our modern lives.
You know, like Jessica from My Kitchen Rules..’cos it’s working out so well for her…
He says we all expend way too much energy telling lies everyday, and preserving an image of ourselves. And that if we just actually stuck to the truth, that if we all spoke more directly about painful and taboo subjects, we’d be happier. The truth creates intimacy.
And, he says, it’s far healthier, easier and more socially acceptable than we may have imagined. "What actually occurs is that when you open up and share by telling the truth it frees you up from the jail of your own mind."
So I decided to test it. For one month, my secret mission was truth. I would be radically, brutally honest.
I told my mum she looked puffy.
I told my dog she stank.
I told my boyfriend, plain as day, that I wanted to have a baby.
When my friends asked me to go somewhere, I told them the truth.
I told people at work exactly what I thought of their ideas, their pitches, their work.
Instead of peppering my work negotiations with niceties, apologies, and fluff, I asked directly for what I wanted — and when it came back as not satisfactory, I said that too.
If I thought it, I said it. And four things happened:
1. It was extremely liberating.
At the beginning, oh gosh, I cannot even tell you how MAGICAL it is to just say what you’re really feeling. It’s like jumping into a pool without any clothes on and you feel all slippery and breathless and you think, 'Why don’t I do this more often!'
It also exposed how much of my life I spend lying. Not in a malicious way, but certainly in a way that expends mental energy. I lie to save people’s feelings, to mask what I truly feel, to present an idea of myself to others. I check what I say before I say it; I think about others’ feelings.
This truth serum stripped that away and I felt really, completely liberated by that. I told a new friend that I had a massive crush on her. I told my boyfriend I would like a baby. I made better, faster decisions at work because I was more direct, and following my instincts. (Post continues after gallery.)
It was addictive. Until…
2. It was extremely uncomfortable
At some point, you have to realise that while your honesty is great and liberating and you feel like you’re a naked warrior of truth and righteousness, it’s not so great for everyone else. When a friend confided in me about her divorce, I replied with, “Congratulations.” We haven’t spoken again, yet.
'Never mind people’s feelings!' I told myself like a sociopath. 'This is the apparent path to happiness!' But here’s what I noticed: rather than feeling liberated, I started to find it anxiety-inducing.
I started shirking conversations with people where I knew I wouldn’t be able to lie. I spent my mornings at work praying no one would ask whether their thighs looked fat in their pants. When my mum asked me if she looked like she’d put on weight, I had to look the woman who raised me and who I love more than anything right in the face and tell her, "Yes."
I told people who were trying really hard at work that actually, what they were doing was sub-standard and needed to be a lot better. Trying out a new cafe, I told them the honest truth about my breakfast and now I don’t think I can go back.
The awkwardness of honesty is confronting and uncomfortable, and any mental energy you saved on telling the truth will then be re-directed into, 'Oh God, why did I say that?'
Watch: Mamamia staff share the biggest lie they've ever told. (Post continues after video.)
3. People thought I was an arsehole.
Even though a lot of the time I wasn’t being deliberately cruel or rude — I was just being matter-of-fact about things — my brutal honesty made me seem like a hard-faced bitch. As soon as I stopped couching my opinions in kindly or apologetic language, it was percieved as rude.
People told me later, “I thought you suddenly hated me” and, “I thought you were weird” and, “that hurt my feelings.”
4. When people appreciated my honesty, our friendship deepened.
Okay, here’s the silver lining: some people in my life bloody loved it. They were compelled by my honesty and in turn, were honest back. This was like rocket fuel for those friendships.
Brutal honesty and directness with people who appreciate it really does create an environment of intimacy. And it’s great for relationships – I would 10/10 recommend.
Except, after my month of honesty, I went back and asked people if they’d noticed and how it made them feel:
I used to think honesty was the best policy. Now I’m not so sure.
It was without doubt the most selfish and self-serving month of my life. Would I do it again? No way.
Though, it’s incredibly satisfying to know that I now have friends that I can be brutally honest with — and in turn, will do the same for me — I can’t ignore the collateral damage it took to get there.
What can you never bring yourself to be honest about?
The full episode of Mamamia Out Loud is here. It’s the weekly podcast with what everyone’s talking about, and actually, it’s kind of radically honest too.