Q: What is lying and why is it stressful?
A: Lying is saying or withholding information in order to manipulate someone's opinion of you. It captures your attention by bringing your focus to the story you're telling, the image you're preserving, and the secret that you're hiding. You're no longer able to focus your attention wherever you want to focus it; you're only able to focus your attention on the lies you're telling and the secret you're keeping. This captured attention creates stress. In Radical Honesty, I attempt to demonstrate that this secrecy, withholding and lying is the primary source of modern human stress, the primary cause of most anxiety and of most depression.
Q: Does everyone lie?
A: Yes. We are always telling some kind of story, building a case for ourselves and trying to put on a best face. We're trying to prove we're good little boys and girls and that we're knowledgeable. Four years ago in a nationwide survey titled "The Day America Told the Truth," 93% of Americans admitted that they lie "regularly and habitually" at work and 35% admitted they have had or were currently having an affair which they were keeping secret from their mates.
Q: Is it possible to be completely honest without hurting a person's feelings?
A: Probably not. If you are in an ongoing relationship with any person there will be times when you hurt their feelings. Probably the most often used rationalization for lying is "I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings." I recommend you hurt people's feelings and stay with them past the hurt. I also recommend that you offend people. We can all get over having our feelings hurt and we can get over being offended. These are not permanent conditions; they are feelings that come and go. On the other side of that reaction is a conversation in which your mutual honesty creates an intimacy not possible if you are hiding something for the sake of someone's feelings.
Q: What if I get mad at someone's reaction to my truth telling?
A: Tell them you are mad. Say "I resent you for..." and be specific about what visible, audible part of their reaction you resent. People can actually get furious at other people and get over it in 15 or 20 minutes. People can avoid being angry at someone else for 10 or 15 or 20 years, and if they actually got angry at them, they'd probably get over it in half an hour.
Q: Do you feel we have to be honest with ourselves before we can have a relationship with someone else?
A: You can't be "secretly" honest. Being "honest with yourself" is simply not separable from being honest with another. A person who says, "I was honest with myself, but decided not to tell..." is just another miserable liar and will have to suffer the consequences. Sharing honestly, with others present, is the way we can have an authentic relationship with another person.
Q: You require your therapy patients to go and tell the truth about things in their past to parents, siblings or spouses. Why?
A: What I've discovered in 25 years of working with people as a psychotherapist in Washington, DC, is that the primary source of their misery is lying. When I coached them to clean up their act and tell the truth they had a hard time going through it, but right on the other side of that hard time they were no longer depressed, they were no longer anxious-they were happier. They had their relationship worked out or a new job with a promotion. They had a brand new relationship with their spouse or a better relationship with their family. 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, which is the source of all human stress anyway. It's also just simply more efficient not to work so hard at all those poses.
Q: In the case of someone who was abused as a child, they are supposed to go back to their parents-and their parents are 70 years old- and tell them they resent the abuse?
A: You're damn right. I often have people bring parents in such cases into my office and tell them in front of me. We have two-hour sessions with the parent and the child. The child begins first by asking the parent to keep quiet and listen. Then the child tells them everything that they specifically remember that they resent and everything that they appreciate. If there's something that they did, like they stole the car at two a.m. when they were 16 and took it out and got a dent in the front fender and brought it back and covered it over and got by with it, I have them tell the truth about it and other things they got by with too. And then I coach the parents to tell the truth to their child about what they resent and what they appreciate. And it works out quite well. It works out for a renewed relationship between the parent and child. As long as there are hidden issues and agendas and feelings, you can never be yourselves with each other.
Q: Why do people have such a hard time being honest about sex?
A: For people to be honest about their sexuality is one of the big hurdles for everyone to get over because sexuality is such a taboo subject. I tell people when I'm attracted to them and they tell me when they are attracted to me to make sure that nothing is going on unacknowledged, that is, an avoidance of reporting feelings which is what we're trying to cure.
Q: Suppose you met someone whom you found unattractive. How do you handle that?
A: If the person's outstandingly ugly, then that's an issue I'm certainly going to bring up to talk about right off. I would say, "I think you look kind of ugly and this is what I think is ugly. I think that big wart on the left side of your face is probably something that puts people off and that you don't have much of a love life, is that true?" Then we'll have a conversation about it. That ugly person has probably always felt the negative unexpressed reaction from people. The idea is that they end up not avoiding the damn thing instead of living a life that's dancing on egg shells. They live life out loud and it's a whole lot better life.
Q: What if you want to be honest and you don't even know the truth yourself?
A: What's true, then, is that you don't know. So you say that. Sometimes it might be more honest to say "I don't know" where it's a real opening where you don't know, and you're willing to be with not knowing; that's where creativity comes from. But more often than not, when people say "I just don't know," it's a protest, it's a whine, it's a not wanting to take responsibility. An authentic "I don't know" is a great place to be.
Q: Is there one central point that you would like people to know about Radical Honesty?
A: I think the focus of what I have to say is not so much some moral taboo against lying as it is that I am in favor of people having fun in their lives, and having joyful, playful lives, serving each other. I'm not morally condoning telling the truth or saying that it's immoral to lie. I'm just talking about a pragmatic thing. If you go out and tell each other the truth you'll be happier. You're better nurtured in a world in which you're telling the truth than you are in a world in which you're cowering, hiding and lying.