My phone dinged its familiar Marco Polo notification last week. I ignored it. Then it dinged again. I ignored it. Then it sent out a proper gaggle of dings which I could not ignore. This turned out to be a group of my amazing friends playing a rousing game of “What Should Candice Do About Her Neighbors?”

Synopsis: My friend Candice’s neighbors asked her to watch their dog, and, as luck would have it, Candice loves both these neighbors and their dog. Great! But (there’s always a but)…problem: Candice has watched this dog before and learned the hard way that the dog is not potty trained. And also…problem complication: these neighbors are easily offended and certainly have a blacklist. So, what to do?

Options: (1)Find an unoffensive way to be unavailable (the white lie method); (2)Say yes and just deal with yellow-polka-dot carpet followed by Cinderella-style scrubbing (the silent martyr method); or (3)Address this with the neighbors and hope there’s no fallout (the uncomfortable truth method). Now, Candice is both honest and good at setting boundaries, so she tried option 3. Unfortunately, fallout commenced. But why? And what if it hadn’t?

What if instead of fretting and “phoning a friend,” (or, in this case, Marco’ing a gaggle of friends), Candice had already known that she could provide constructive feedback to the neighbors without fallout? What if instead of taking offense, the neighbors had simply accepted Candice’s vulnerability and feedback and — together — they had all found a solution?

I’m reading Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. Absolute gold. In the chapter on the armor we use to hide vulnerability, she talks about criticism and how we use it as both shield and sword to hide from and fight vulnerability. As with most commentary on criticism she then has to clarify that she isn’t talking about constructive feedback. In fact, constructive feedback is a necessary tool for good relationships. This got me thinking about how difficult it is for us to both give and receive constructive feedback. What a massive drain on progress.

Why are we so inept at this?

Because giving and receiving constructive feedback requires radical honesty. And we’re not good at radical honesty.

In Sam Harris’s Lying, he makes the case for complete honesty in all things. Most of us can get on board with this until confronted with the many white lie scenarios we’re all familiar with. You mean I should really tell Aunt Petunia that I don’t like the sweater she knitted me?? No way. That’s stupid. Why hurt her feelings?

But hold up just a second. Why don’t we want to do this? Is it really better to act like we love the sweater but then never wear it (you know she’s going to notice) or to secretly hate it but make sure to wear it when she comes over (compromising our integrity)? Why do we think the best option is being fake in one way or another?

Two problems: We humans are not radically honest with ourselves and, subsequently, we aren’t radically honest with each other.

When I say we aren’t radically honest with ourselves, I’m talking about a lack of introspection. Most of us just go around feeling things without asking why (or worse, purposely avoiding the why). We get offended, we react. We get angry, we react. And when we do this, we tend to harm relationships. In Aunt Petunia’s case, she — like all of us — has an innate tendency to identify her own worth with the satisfaction of those around her. So when we tell her we don’t like the sweater she knitted us, it’s like telling her we don’t like her. But she doesn’t recognize this. She just gets offended and reacts. Enter the damaged relationship.

But what if Petunia could just stop for a moment, look at her feelings, get curious about her feelings, and learn to separate her worth from them? What if she was able to remind herself that she, and her worth as a human, are not dependent on other people’s satisfaction with a sweater? It sounds silly, but we all do this. We almost automatically connect our worth with other people’s approval and satisfaction with our actions. But what if we didn’t?

And what if other people didn’t? When I talk about being radically honest with other people, I’m not talking about being rude; I’m talking about kindly refusing to add to the incessant problem of tiptoeing, gossiping, and compromising integrity that goes on in a society where dishonesty is par for the course.

What would it be like if you overtly took a stand for honesty, if you became that person in your sphere who everyone knows is radically honest? What if your friends didn’t have to worry about whether you really meant what you said? If you could offer to babysit their children without them wondering if you were secretly cursing them under your breath? If you and your girlfriend could watch that Rom Com without her wondering if you were secretly yawning the whole time? If you could give your employee the day off without them wondering if you were secretly keeping tally and thinking them lazy? What if your community could ask your opinion and know for sure that you would give them an honest answer?

What if our scholars did this? What if our scientists did this? What if our religious leaders did this? What if our politicians did this?

Call me crazy (I won’t associate my worth with your conclusion), but I love imagining a world everyone grows up learning how to speak kindly and honestly to each other, how to set boundaries without having to create white lies, how to stop and listen to their feelings and then feel free to openly discuss them, and how to dissociate their personal worth from their nephew’s satisfaction with a sweater.

In that world, we could just tell our neighbors that we love them and their dog (and they would believe us!), but that we aren’t sure what to do about all that pee. And then our neighbors would just say, “Oh, I didn’t realize that was happening. Let’s fix this pee problem together!”

What a radically honest, and radically wonderful, world.

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