Ben Scofield

Ben Scofield

… rarely updated

02 Feb 2013

On Radical Honesty

OK, who's heard of Radical Honesty? My introduction to it was in AJ Jacobs' My Life as an Experiment. The premise is that you don't lie, and (according to the founder) don't filter at all. If you're mad at someone, you let them have it with the full force of your anger; if you're attracted to someone who is not your partner, you tell them that you're thinking about what it would be like to have sex with them. This would seem to be the ultimate expression of the thought I expressed in On Integrity, but in practice I think it's much too facile.

Here's the thing: I fully believe that you have the opportunity to choose who to be. My two favorite quotes of all time are both related to this. Paraphrased, they're:

How can I know what I think until I see what I say?

I started acting like the person I wanted to be, and I gradually became him.

The first one points to the extreme limits of our self-knowledge. We don't control our internal thoughts and feelings, and at times we're not even aware of what they are. That's why flipping a coin to make a decision sometimes works so well -- when it comes up on one side and we get disappointed, it's evidence that internally we had a preference that we weren't consciously aware of.

The second one points to the fact that our instantaneous lack of control of our minds doesn't mean that we can't train them to do what we want. If I decide I want to be more civil, then I can force myself to act more civil -- and eventually, being civil becomes a reflex or a habit and I don't have to force myself anymore. Per the discussion of integrity, of course, this only really works if I'm fully consistent. I can't be civil in my non-anonymous interactions and still flame people at will on Twitter and expect to train myself away from the troll-tastic instinct.

The problem with Radical Honesty, then, is that is completely abandons the second principle. It's all about advertising who you are now, as opposed to who you want to (and can) be.