Radical Honesty has a bit of a bad reputation, probably because the founder of the movement has a bad habit of being a jerk.
But the movement provides a good foundation for other forms of honesty and mindful communication.
By looking at the problems with radical honesty, we can learn an even better way to tell each other how we feel. Let’s take, for example, this short excerpt from the FAW at the Radical Honesty website.
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 part 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.
If this is the only thing you knew about Radical Honesty, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it’s maybe the worst idea anyone has ever proposed.
But there’s more to the story than this. Let’s look at some of the basics of the Radical Honesty philosophy.
Brad Blanton, Radical Honest’s founder, defends actions like this by saying “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.”.
Now here is where we need to make a distinction. Part of our commitment to yoga is to first practice nonviolence.
If you only practice one of the yamas, it is ahimsa that is recommended. Do not harm trumps all.
So we must learn the difference between offense and hurt, then distinguish between unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings, and doing actual harm to someone. How can we do that if we’re trying to be honest about everything we think and feel?
The answer comes from Marshall Rosenberg of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) movement. Call it the kinder, gentler radical honesty.
With NVC process, the goal is to “clearly express and empathically receive” how we are feeling and what we are feeling and what we’re thinking, without blame or criticism.
Unlike radical honesty, which is foremost concerned with saying what you think when you think it, nonviolent communication asks us to consider the purpose of our speech.
Many of us are tempted to hold back, even to lie, in order to stop from hurting someone else’s feelings. The radically honest might not consider another person’s feelings at all.
But there has to be somewhere in between where we can be both honest and kind.
This is where nonviolent communication comes in.
Let’s consider our earlier hypothetical situation. You are out on a date, meeting someone for the first time, and you just don’t like her/his look. The spark isn’t there.
This is how nonviolent communication asks us to respond, with radical honesty and kindness:
The first step in expressing something through NVC is to determine what observation is causing you to react.
In this case, you might be tempted as in the question above to begin with your value judgment— “This person is ugly.” But we need to dig deeper than this.
Ugly isn’t an observation, it’s a judgment. It is the thought you have based on the sensory input. The input is more simple than that: “I am not attracted to you.”
We judge pretty much automatically, but NVC requires us to put the brakes on all that mind chatter and tune into the heart.
Yoga and meditation are the perfect pairing for this kind of mindful communication!
It’s impossible to know how the person judging their date as “ugly” actually feels. Perhaps you are disappointed, because they really enjoy the other’s company. Maybe you are angry because they used a fake picture online. Or you could simply be interested.
You can see how simply stating your judgment of someone else is actually less honest, because it externalizes your own feelings onto them.
They don’t learn anything about you or about themselves simply by being bombarded with your monkey mind. But open your heart and explain how you feel. Completely different interaction.
What do you need? This generally flows naturally from your observation.
If you notice that you aren’t attracted to this person, you probably have a need relating to physical attraction. “I really need passion and physical attraction in my relationships.”
This statement needs to be about you and not the other person.
No statements that begin with, “I need you to…” — this step is about you. The request comes next.
What do you want to do about it? That’s what this step is all about and this should be based on your feelings.
If you were feeling disappointed because you really like this person, you might request that you pursue a friendship.
Feelings of anger may prompt you to request the person explain their actions.
If your feelings are indifferent, you may simply request that you end the date early.
Remember the word request. Don’t demand, don’t coerce, don’t expect.
Ask and accept whatever happens next. Tell the truth and do no harm.
What is your secret for being more mindful in your communication? Do you practice Radical Honesty or Nonviolent Communication?
For more Yoga and Meditation inspiration, check out the blog of Zenward, The School of True Yoga. If you’re looking for to start or continue on your yoga journey anytime, anywhere, discover more here.