Changing My Life With Radical Honesty

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About Dan Shewan

Dan Shewan is a fiction writer and essayist currently residing in New England. His nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Vol.1 Brooklyn , Sundog Lit, and Hippocampus Magazine, and he is a regular contributor to The Rumpus, Full Stop and LitReactor. He is currently working on a series of short stories and personal essays, in addition to a longer work of fiction. You can follow him on Twitter @danshewan.


  1. Many times when I start to say something to my partner and it begins with, “I’ve been afraid to tell you this… ” it goes better than I feared. Last time I did this, my partner already knew what I was telling him but hearing it from me made the difference.

    • Sometimes it goes worse that you expect. As for my wife, marriage counsellors, friends and family when they all asked for the truth; I went instantly to old Jack’s famous line: “You can’t handle the truth.”

      “Tell us what’s eating you!!!” If I do, you’ll reject me, think me to be flawed, never look at me the same again, etc. I thought some things did in fact need to be masked and muscled into submission and repression. I was right. Too bad I didn’t follow my instincts.

      Injured man is best-off painting only beautiful pictures of his reality. If someone catches a glimpse of that demon in the background, just have a wet brush at the ready to smear over it. No one wants to see certain truths. no one!

      • Man I hate to hear this…..I guess my instinct is to say that anyone who doesn’t accept you for who you are isn’t a person of quality. But I know the practical side can be pretty taxing. As in, you might end up with extra stress/hassle. For me it’s been important to be honest with myself first and foremost about what I can live with and that sets the tone for everything else.

  2. I know what you mean about people interpreting radical honesty in different ways. I have an adult son that speaks his mind and doesn’t usually follow the social traditions of false compliments, etc… I’ve noticed many people don’t know how to react and consider it rude or stark behavior.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    • The “radically honest,” can enjoy what they wish. They can see it as “me being me.” I fully get that. It just becomes a problem when people expect adherence to normative social code. I hope he’s not surprised when people interpret his behavior as “rude or stark.”

      I loved the lines from Seinfeld (TV Comedy) when they use to insert the caveat “if it were socially acceptable.” e.g: “If it were socially acceptable, I’d wear 100% velvet all the time!”

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. “That kid sure is ugly,” could be radically honest, but it’s unnecessary.
    For some folks, who, when called on it, say with injured innocence, “But I was only being honest.,” radical honesty is ‘way like fun.

  4. This is uncannily like my own experiences. I too had a similar relationship, and my new partner is also very straightforward and honest.

    Well worth reading on this subject – and quite short and palatable – is “Lying” by Sam Harris.

  5. I like the concept this article is talking about but not its nomenclature. I think calling it “Radical Honesty” (which Blanton likely adopted as a way to sell books) gets in the way of the point this article is trying to convey. What this article is talking about isn’t “radical” — it’s what I suspect many people aspire to and many think they live up to without realizing that “white lies” and denying our own feelings is just as dishonest and damaging as “real” lies. It wouldn’t sell as many books, but I’d call what the article talking about as simply living with integrity and being one’s self. Some of the comment writers seem to have missed the author’s explanation that at the same time as he tries to be honest, he believes it to be just as important to be respectful and tactful — it’s true that comments like “the kid is ugly” are not necessary. But they’re also not respectful or tactful so I suspect that’s not what the author is talking about. Personally, I try to draw the line between being honest (e.g., Do you like this dinner? “It’s not my favorite”) and being brutally honest (e.g. “This is the worst food I’ve ever tasted in my life. What is this, dog food?”). I’ve personally experienced some pretty awful reactions to being honest about my feelings and beliefs even though expressed in a way that wasn’t brutal at all, but that wasn’t what the other person wanted hear. But the price of dishonesty was far greater.

    • Thank you. I thought “candidly telling someone how they feel, while giving deep and thoughtful consideration to that person’s feelings, without compromising either their own integrity or appearing callous” was a pretty clear statement of the idea, though obviously easier said than done.

      I guess I’m just struck by how quickly so many commenters seem to have reacted with “honesty? why that would be totally callous and cruel” despite what the post says.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    I read one of Blanton’s books, and I’ve heard him interviewed when he was running for Congress. I think he’s very right about how much people lie to each other in hundreds of different ways, and he’s right that lies tend to feed on each other.

    My impression, though, is that his practice of radical honesty is best as a kind of radical treatment for turning one’s life around, and not so much as a long-term strategy for life. It’s sort of like electroshock therapy, or chemotherapy – a giant blast of powerful stuff that otherwise can be somewhat toxic. When I went through a kind of midlife existential crisis a few years ago, I considered turning to radical honesty, but I opted for something less drastic but still honest.

    My memory of his book was that he considered not speaking as a form of lying. Radical honesty is more than just not speaking an untruth, but speaking your mind when you feel like saying something, no matter what. Keeping something to yourself in order to spare someone’s feelings was a form of lying just as bad as telling an overt lie. I can’t quite agree with that. Some people use the truth as a weapon, when speaking the truth has no more goal than causing pain to someone else.

    Blanton’s approach is definitely very disarming and refreshing. He will answer any question any reporter asks him, even answers that would embarrass any other public figure. He admits to drug use, all sorts of sexual adventures, living in a nudist camp, etc., things that no one else running for Congress would ever admit to. In that way, he is basically scandal-proof. He wastes no energy running from his past or trying to cover up his past behavior. I imagine he lives a life where he feels incredibly free.

  7. It seems like the “radically honest” need some extraordinarily tolerant people in their lives. If I was radically honest, I have a feeling I’d have no friends in fairly short order, and my family would probably stop speaking to me. Sounds kind of lonely. Maybe a good way to end dysfunctioal relationships, but who do you replace those people with? I don’t really know anyone who likes being told the honest truth.

    • I don’t really know anyone who likes being told the honest truth.

      Funny… just about everybody I know likes being told the “honest” truth (“honest?” as opposed to some other kind of truth?) but they don’t like being dumped on or wounded with words.

      Seems to me that there may be some options other than just either telling people what they want to hear or totally scathing them.

    • wellokaythen says:

      It may not surprise you to learn that Blanton himself is on his fifth marriage at this point. His book also suggests that you bluntly tell your coworkers whenever you find them sexually attractive — another recipe for disaster, in my book.

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