Header / Cover Image for 'About Radical Honesty'
Header / Cover Image for 'About Radical Honesty'

About Radical Honesty

Those who’ve read previous work or articles of mine know that I have a principle to “never lie”. It’s part of a short list of simple principles that I imagined when I was a young boy. Partially because it just seemed the right thing to do, partially as a reaction to all the bullshit happening around me. (Lie after lie, abuse after abuse, …)

In recent years, I am happy to see more attention going towards this principle. More and more people are advocating for honesty—to yourself or to others—and it’s most commonly known now as “Radical Honesty”.

I, however, think that’s a terrible name.

It pretends there’s something extreme about it, like entering a cult or having some weird belief. It prompts the unsurprising response of “well, actually, being honest all the time is NOT a good idea, you should just be honest MOST of the time, otherwise you’re … radical”.

I just call it honesty. What a shocker.

There is nothing radical about it. Honesty is the default. Lying should be the odd one out. But somehow we’ve created a world in which people lie 24/7 and convince themselves that telling the truth is “radical” and “naïve”.

So let me briefly describe my experiences following this principle for 15+ years.

I’m 26 now. Yes, I was young when I wrote my document titled “Rules of Life”. No, I probably won’t share it, because most of it is only half-baked. And clearly shows I was a young boy with no skill in communicating my thoughts.

Experience 1

Experience #1: Freedom, so much freedom. When you tell a lie, you must first waste energy making up some story, then waste more energy (pretty much indefinitely) to remember and regurgitate that. When you tell the truth, you … do none of that! It saves so much time and energy. It saves so much mental space.

I am a hyperactive person doing way too many things at once, every day. This principle to always tell the truth and that’s it is probably the only reason I’m actually able to do that. My mind is free and focused, for I need not waste it on keeping secrets or coming up with lies to do cover up something I knew was bad.

Talking about that …

Experience 2

Experience #2: You stop doing bad things. Naughty deeds simply aren’t an option anymore. Because you know you have to candidly reveal you did them and for selfish reasons. These can be minor—like grabbing a cookie when your parents said you couldn’t—or major—like stealing a large sum of money that somebody accidentally left behind.

All of that becomes not done. You have to tell the truth. To others and yourself. So the barrier to doing it is raised further, until you learn to stop desiring bad and selfish acts at all.

Experience 3

Experience #3: It’s hard at first, becomes easier over time, but never truly easy. We convince ourselves over and over that to lie is normal. No, it is good. So the older you are, the harder it will be to break free. Honesty becomes something that contradicts all your habits, instincts and assumptions.

I was lucky to realize this at such a young age, as that made it much easier. When talking about this with people my current age, mid twenties, they already view it as an impossible obstacle to climb.

Even so, I’ve struggled from time to time. Situations still arise when something wars within me. And the excuses are always the same.

  • I don’t want to be excluded from the group.
  • I don’t want to lose that relationship.
  • I don’t want to spend extra time and energy when a simple lie will solve it quickly.
  • I want to have more money, or safety, or comfort.
  • I want to give in to certain urges or desires within me.

I study a lot of science and human history for my Saga of Life stories. The one recurring element is that people evolved to derive happiness almost exclusively from social relationships. Over thousands of years, belonging to a group gave such a higher chance of survival, that anybody who went against the group probably died and didn’t pass on their genes.

This promoted all the nasty behavior we see today. Lying to stay with the group, not being rational to stay with the group, just accepting all abuse or bullshit to stay with the group.

Being completely honest and transparent does mean you go against the grain a lot of the time. It means you speak out when the other 99% want you to shut up. It means you lose friendships because they can’t handle it. It makes you more vulnerable, as people know everything about you.

So yes, it’s my believe that it is somewhat in our nature to lie and wear a mask. We value social relationships and belonging SO MUCH that we’re prepared to become dishonest fakes for it. Being honest at all times collides somewhat with this deep-rooted urge … but not as much as you think.

Experience 4

Experience #4: The people and things that matter will stay close. Being honest will scare some people away. It will create conflicts with people that just cannot be resolved, because you see the truth, and they only see their made-up fantasy that makes them look like god and you like the devil.

You will lose some people, some things, some opportunities. In return, you will be left with people who truly care about you and care about being honest in return. The things you’re left with are new, and unique, and free.

I’ve had so many conversations where I could just tell somebody was offering a fake version of themselves. Or they were holding back information, probably the actual thing that I’d want to know. (Or need to know to do my job, depending on whether this was a formal or informal conversation.)

Most of the time, being honest myself made them open up like magic.

I’m a scientist and oppose all the fake “alternative medicine” nonsense. It’s a huge scam that takes money from people who most needed it for something else. Naturally, people know this (partially due to my honesty), so what do they do? They lie. They hide their own past with alternative medicine or their own views. They hide anything they think will “offend the overly logical scientist”.

At the same time, I have a chronical illness that drives me nuts. Nuts enough to at least try some alternative therapies a few times. Now the tables have turned: if I were a regular person, I’d probably be “ashamed” (or whatever) and lie about this.

I don’t. I tell these stories. I am simply honest, what an invention. And the result? They literally tell me “Well … I wasn’t going to say this … but you mentioned X, so here is the real story.” The most interesting stuff comes out, because it is true.

Experience 5

Experience #5: Honesty to yourself first, then others. When you try this, you notice it is actually easier to tell the truth when it concerns others (or some external thing), than when it comes to your own life (or some internal conflict).

I saw somebody else take that last cookie they weren’t allowed to? I’m snitching. I don’t care. I’m telling the truth.

I know a friend of mine cheated on his girlfriend? I’m snitching. I don’t care.

But then you look in the mirror and notice you’ve put on significant weight. You tell yourself …

  • “The mirror is old and bent, the image is distorted, I’m fine.”
  • “It’s abs. I just have great abs now.”
  • “I am sick today. My stomach is filled with gas now, that’s why I look fat.”
  • “At least 50% of the world is more fat than I am! I’m fine.”

It is so, so hard to be honest with yourself. Because external honesty has both a check and a reward. Others can check if you tell the truth and others will reward you for speaking out honestly.

But when it’s just your internal thoughts and mental habits, it’s near impossible to learn honesty. You have to do it all on your own. You have to catch all the mistakes and excuses on your own.

People aren’t smart. We really, really aren’t. We’re just monkeys with a slight upgrade to our brain. We invent assumptions and ideas based on our emotions at the moment, and then we retroactively fit arguments and logic onto it that sounds convincing.

So that will be your biggest hurdle. Catching all the lies you tell yourself and owning up to it. I even recommend doing that first, before being completely honest in external matters.

Because nobody likes a hypocrite :p

Experience 6

Experience #6: (Radical) Honesty is not the same as bluntness or speaking out loud all that’s on your mind.

This is one of the main arguments against 100% honesty, and it surprises me. It’s just … not the same?

No need to sugarcoat it or hide your true meaning in five paragraphs of praise. But you can always say something bluntly or aggressively … or not.

Somebody has been writing a book and wants to know what I think of it? I will always give my honest feedback. That usually means a few minor positives and loads of criticism. That’s the whole point of it. Most artists (like me) can tell you that they want honest feedback, because people nodding and saying “yeah it was fine” are worthless.

But there’s a world of difference between “your sentences are RUBBISH and you SUCK” and “this sentence doesn’t flow well; try splitting it into two”.

Similarly, 100% honesty has nothing to do with speaking what’s on your mind all the time. In fact, our thoughts go way too fast to properly say them out loud anyway. We make up what we want to say as we’re already speaking, so I’ve never put any sort of weight on what comes out of people’s mouths anyway.

Listen. Really listen. Most people use more “um” and “you know” and “like” than actual content, while repeating themselves three times in slightly different ways, as they are in the process of figuring out what they actually want to say. No, what people say should always be taken with a pile of salt, and is never the complete story.

Honesty is first and foremost about being honest to yourself. Having an honest inner voice and reasoning for your own acts.

Secondly, it’s about telling the truth when asked. Or when you deem a truth too important to stay silent until prodded. (For example: somebody might not explicitly ask me if their boyfriend is cheating on them. But if I see them lying to her over and over, I feel obliged to just tell her.)

Nobody wants to hear (almost) all that’s on your mind. It has nothing to do with this whole article: it’s about when you do say something, whether you choose to lie or to be honest.

The question about when to speak up or involve yourself in situations is a different matter entirely, and a pretty gray area. (You literally can’t insert yourself into everything this way. At the same time, staying out of everything means you never actually say anything, which means honesty when speaking is pretty irrelevant.)


There is nothing radical about it. It’s just honesty. What is, perhaps, radical is trying to actually make this happen.

It’s a misnomer that’s only helping the opponents come up with terribly weak arguments that do sound convincing. You know, the thing our inner voice does all the time.

Because we’d rather stay safe in our blanket of lies and fantasies, than admit the truth and use that to grow into a better person.

It’s come to a point where it’s either shut up or lie, because the truthteller is quickly banished from the family. And that’s how things like serious abuse or sexual harassment can go on for fifty years inside families, business, systems in general. That’s how everyone can know a thing is terrible or a problem desperately needs solving, but nothing changes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Start being 100% honest, to yourself and others. You’ll lose some people. You’ll be attacked on your vulnerabilities—that’s just a reason to grow stronger and withstand the attack. But you’ll gain too much to let that stop you. And maybe, just maybe, you inspire those around you and the radical idea of “do not lie to the face of your loved ones” spreads like a virus.

Think about situations in your life that were hard, or exhausting, or had terrible consequences. Think about how many of those were caused or made worse because of a lie. Because someone purposely twisted or hid the truth. I expect that number to be much higher than people are comfortable to admit.

As I write and read more stories, I see this pattern recurring everywhere. Most stories only exist because of lies. Because most hurt and trauma and terrible events can only exist and be perpetuated because of a lack of honesty.

I guess there’s only one reason to lie and manipulate: it creates damn good stories.