By Sonali Kokra Nov. 19, 2018
The concept of Radical Honesty isn’t just about telling the truth – you have to commit to voicing every stupid, bitchy, relationship-ending, career-destroying thought that tumbles through your head. I started my experiment with absolute truth-telling and landed in my own private hell.
few months ago, I found myself muttering self-directed curses while attempting to write an email to an editor I’d spent roughly seven years nursing a giant secret crush on. I had to tell him about my embarrassing infatuation, and in that moment, I wish I’d turn into Sita and be swallowed by the earth.
Why did I have to tell him? Because in my (long) assembly line of stupid, impulsive decisions, I’d committed myself to 30 days of absolute truth-telling. Or “Radical Honesty”, as Brad Blanton, the US-based psychotherapist who came up with the idea, labels it. In 1996, Blanton published the book Radical Honesty: How To Transform Your Life By Telling The Truth. In the book, Blanton proposes the idea that the path to authentic, meaningful relationships is by eliminating all lies from our interactions. According to Blanton, getting rid of the lies that swirl in our brain frees it from anxiety and depression. Lies are the primary source of human stress, he theorises.
Sounds simple and doable enough. Most of us think of ourselves as fairly honest, and therefore, by extension, decent people. “What kind of person finds being truthful difficult?” I remember thinking primly while scrolling through an article about the book. I had, after all, been called blunt to the point of being annoying, by more than one friend, on more than one occasion.
But Radical Honesty wasn’t just about telling the truth; Blanton had kicked up the honesty-is-the-best-policy diktat several notches. If you were going to be radically honest, you had to commit to voicing every stupid, mean, bitchy, relationship-ending, career-destroying thought that tumbled through your head. And you had to volunteer that information, even if there was no earthly reason for sharing it. Offend people. Hurt their feelings. And then stay with them until the hurt feelings recede, is what Blanton recommends. The possibilities for wreaking havoc in one’s life with Radical Honesty are limitless.
I loved my goddaughter to bits, but she did look like an oversized shrivelled potato in the first couple of months of her existence.
And for some foolish reason, it seemed like a very good idea to me, right then.
Roughly 40 minutes into Day #1 of the challenge, I was ready to give up and call it a day. I wasn’t even out of bed yet, and I’d already pissed off my mother by telling her what I thought about her plan to make lauki (yet again) for lunch, annoyed my brother by telling him how his braces really made him look, and risked disinheritance by giving my father wholly unsolicited opinions about his English-speaking skills.
By the end of Week #1, my best friend had stopped taking my calls. “Don’t you dare call me until you’re done with this bullshit challenge,” she shouted through the phone before ending the call. I couldn’t blame her. I loved my goddaughter to bits, but she did look like an oversized shrivelled potato in the first couple of months of her existence. My friend list on Facebook, I noticed, had shrunk considerably. In retrospect, I probably didn’t strictly need to tell a friend that the pattern on her precious wedding lehenga looked like radioactive spiders were swimming in Benadryl-coloured vomit.
I felt like a first-grade schmuck, and the harder I tried to think bland thoughts, the more vicious and graphic the descriptions being churned out by my brain became. Being an asshole to that extent requires serious commitment and a far tougher constitution than I had. I was in my own private hell. In the history of humankind, no one has ever wanted an honest answer to the banal “How are you?” question. It is simply a conversational lubricant, used to make the ordeal of human interactions a little less awkward. So imagine, startling random acquaintances with the information that I was, in fact, “not okay” and had not “gone” in two days due to a particularly persistent bout of constipation. Radical Honesty was making me break some very important, time-honoured social contracts.
By the end of the fortnight, I was experiencing a Tinder drought. Men I had been chatting with for weeks were suddenly either no longer interested in talking, or had completely vanished. But I suppose that is to be expected when someone sends you a dick pic and you tell them to get that “discoloured thingy” on the side checked out because it looked like a genital wart. Nothing quite like HPV to dampen the ardour of would-be sexters.
By the time the godforsaken month drew to a close, at least three of my mum’s friends had started to cross the road to avoid me during their morning walk. Once, while visiting, they felt inclined to comment on the tightness of my jogging pants, which, of course, triggered an internal monologue about their uniform of loose, ill-fighting bras, transparent salwar kameezes, and clunky sport shoes. Suffice it to say, the second the words came out of my mouth, all three of their faces turned redder than the gaajar ka halwa they were chomping on, while mum looked like she was about to erupt in an apoplectic fit. I scampered out of the room before a chappal could come flying in my direction. But there was lauki for dinner for a whole week after that. Still, all things considered, I got off pretty easy, I think.
As excruciatingly painful and embarrassing as it was, if I were to be completely honest, my month of honesty wasn’t all bad. A throwaway observation about a friend looking pale and withdrawn ended in a surprising heart-to-heart about his struggles with anxiety. A sudden text to an ex led to an unexpectedly frank conversation about why our relationship collapsed, and helped us both get closure. My cringeworthy confession about my bowel movements, shockingly, resulted in me getting some really good advice.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I did chicken out of spilling some truths. Because telling the truth is exhausting, inconvenient, and often selfish. Sure, it was liberating and exhilarating to be able to tell mum’s nosy friends to worry less about how my ass looked while jogging and more about their own heaving bosoms as they panted up and down Marine Drive, but did I really need to be such a prick? In the grand scheme of things, what did the colour of my friend’s wedding dress, or potential warts on strangers’ genitals matter?
Life is so much better when you can allow the lies to roll off your tongue, guiltlessly. Dutifully ooh and aah over clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. Suddenly find yourself “not ready” to date, when you don’t like the junk hiding in Tinder-boy’s trunks.
So what did I learn from my month of self-enforced honesty? The truth will set you free, but a timely lie is what will buy you a captive audience — and your pick of Tinder dates.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.