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    Default Radical Honesty (Esquire article) - LONG

    I Think You're Fat

    This story is about something

    called Radical Honesty. It may change your life. (But honestly, we don't really care.)

    By A.J.


    Here's the truth about why I'm writing this article:

    I want to fulfill my

    contract with my boss. I want to avoid getting fired. I want all the attractive women I knew in high school and

    college to read it. I want them to be amazed and impressed and feel a vague regret over their decision not to have

    sex with me, and maybe if I get divorced or become a widower, I can have sex with them someday at a reunion. I want

    Hollywood to buy my article and turn it into a movie, even though they kind of already made the movie ten years ago

    with Jim Carrey. I want to get congratulatory e-mails and job offers that I can politely decline. Or accept if

    they're really good. Then get a generous counteroffer from my boss.

    To be totally honest, I was sorry I

    mentioned this idea to my boss about three seconds after I opened my mouth. Because I knew the article would be a

    pain in the ### to pull off. Dammit. I should have let my colleague Tom Chiarella write it. But I didn't want to

    seem lazy.

    What I mentioned to my boss was this: a movement called Radical Honesty.

    The movement was

    founded by a sixty-six-year-old Virginia-based psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. He says everybody would be

    happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time. This would be radical enough -- a world without fibs

    -- but Blanton goes further. He says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think

    it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you're having fantasies about your

    wife's sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It's the only path to authentic relationships.

    It's the only way to smash through modernity's soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.


    I know. One of the most idiotic ideas ever, right up there with Vanilla Coke and giving Phil Spector a gun permit.

    Deceit makes our world go round. Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be

    shattered, governments would collapse.

    And yet...maybe there's something to it. Especially for me. I have a

    lying problem. Mine aren't big lies. They aren't lies like "I cannot recall that crucial meeting from two months

    ago, Senator." Mine are little lies. White lies. Half-truths. The kind we all tell. But I tell dozens of them every

    day. "Yes, let's definitely get together soon." "I'd love to, but I have a touch of the stomach flu." "No, we

    can't buy a toy today -- the toy store is closed." It's bad. Maybe a couple of weeks of truth-immersion therapy

    would do me good.

    I e-mail Blanton to ask if I can come down to Virginia and get some pointers before

    embarking on my Radical Honesty experiment. He writes back: "I appreciate you for apparently having a real interest

    and hope you're not just doing a cutesy little superficial dip#### job like most journalists."

    I'm already

    nervous. I better start off with a clean slate. I confess I lied to him in my first e-mail -- that I haven't

    ordered all his books on Amazon yet. I was just trying to impress upon him that I was serious about his work. He

    writes back: "Thanks for your honesty in attempting to guess what your manipulative and self-protective motive must

    have been."

    Blanton lives in a house he built himself, perched on a hill in the town of Stanley, Virginia,

    population 1,331. We're sitting on white chairs in a room with enormous windows and a crackling fireplace. He's

    swirling a glass of Maker's Mark bourbon and water and telling me why it's important to live with no


    "You'll have really bad times, you'll have really great times, but you'll contribute to other people

    because you haven't been dancing on eggshells your whole ####### life. It's a better life."

    "Do you think

    it's ever okay to lie?" I ask.

    "I advocate never lying in personal relationships. But if you have Anne Frank

    in your attic and a Nazi knocks on the door, lie....I lie to any government official." (Blanton's politics are just

    this side of Noam Chomsky's.) "I lie to the IRS. I always take more deductions than are justified. I lie in golf.

    And in poker."

    Blanton adjusts his crotch. I expected him to be a bully. Or maybe a new-age huckster with a

    bead necklace who sits cross-legged on the floor. He's neither. He's a former Texan with a big belly and a big

    laugh and a big voice. He's got a bushy head of gray hair and a twang that makes his bye sound like bah. He calls

    himself "white trash with a Ph.D." If you mixed DNA from Lyndon Johnson, Ken Kesey, and threw in the nonannoying

    parts of Dr. Phil, you might get Blanton.

    He ran for Congress twice, with the novel promise that he'd be an

    honest politician. In 2004, he got a surprising 25 percent of the vote in his Virginia district as an independent.

    In 2006, the Democrats considered endorsing him but got skittish about his weeklong workshops, which involve a day

    of total nudity. They also weren't crazy that he's been married five times (currently to a Swedish flight

    attendant twenty-six years his junior). He ran again but withdrew when it became clear he was going to be


    My interview with Blanton is unlike any other I've had in fifteen years as a journalist. Usually,

    there's a fair amount of ### kissing and diplomacy. You approach the controversial stuff on tippy toes (the way

    Barbara Walters once asked Richard Gere about that terrible, terrible rumor). With Blanton, I can say anything that

    pops into my mind. In fact, it would be rude not to say it. I'd be insulting his life's work. It's my first taste

    of Radical Honesty, and it's liberating, exhilarating.

    When Blanton rambles on about President Bush, I say,

    "You know, I stopped listening about a minute ago."

    "Thanks for telling me," he says.

    I tell him, "You

    look older than you do in the author photo for your book," and when he veers too far into therapyspeak, I say, "That

    just sounds like gobbledy####."

    "Thanks," he replies." Or, "That's fine."

    Blanton has a temper -- he

    threatened to "beat the ####" out of a newspaper editor during the campaign -- but it hasn't flared tonight. The

    closest he comes to attacking me is when he says I am self-indulgent and Esquire is pretentious. Both


    Blanton pours himself another bourbon and water. He's got a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek, and

    when he spits into the fireplace, the flames crackle louder.

    "My boss says you sound like a ####," I


    "Tell your boss he's a ####," he says.

    "I'm glad you picked your nose just now," I say.

    "Because it was funny and disgusting, and it'll make a good detail for the article."

    "That's fine. I'll

    pick my ### in a minute." Then he unleashes his deep Texan laugh: heh, heh, heh. (He also burps and farts throughout

    our conversation; he believes the one-cheek sneak is "a little deceitful.")

    No topic is off-limits. "I've

    slept with more than five hundred women and about a half dozen men," he tells me. "I've had a whole bunch of

    threesomes" -- one of which involved a hermaphrodite prostitute equipped with dual organs.

    What about


    Blanton thinks for a minute. "I let my dog lick my #### once."

    If he hadn't devoted his life

    to Radical Honesty, I'd say he was, to use his own phrase, as full of #### as a Christmas turkey. But I don't

    think he is. I believe he's telling the truth. Which is a startling thing for a journalist to confront. Generally,

    I'm devoting 30 percent of my mental energy to figuring out what a source is lying about or hiding from me. Another

    20 percent goes into scheming about how to unearth that buried truth. No need for that today.

    "I was

    disappointed when I visited your office," I tell Blanton. (Earlier he had shown me a small, cluttered single-room

    office that serves as the Radical Honesty headquarters.) "I'm impressed by exteriors, so I would have been

    impressed by an office building in some city, not a room in Butt ####, Virginia. For my article, I want this to be a

    legitimate movement, not a fringe movement."

    "What about a legitimate fringe movement?" asks Blanton, who

    has, by this time, had three bourbons.

    Blanton's legitimate fringe movement is sizable but not huge. He's

    sold 175,000 books in eleven languages and has twenty-five trainers assisting in workshops and running practice

    groups around the country.

    Now, my editor thinks I'm overreaching here and trying too hard to justify this

    article's existence, but I think society is speeding toward its own version of Radical Honesty. The truth of our

    lives is increasingly being exposed, both voluntarily (MySpace pages, transparent business transactions) and

    involuntarily. (See Gonzales and Google, or ask Alec Baldwin.) For better or worse, we may all soon be Brad

    Blantons. I need to be prepared. [Such bull####. -- Ed.]

    I return to New York and immediately set about

    delaying my experiment. When you're with Blanton, you think, Yes, I can do this! The truth, the whole truth,

    nothing but the truth. But when I get back to bosses and fragile friendships, I continue my lying


    "How's Radical Honesty going?" my boss asks.

    "It's okay," I lie. "A little slow."


    couple of weeks later, I finally get some inspiration from my friend's five-year-old daughter, Alison. We are in

    Central Park for a play date. Out of nowhere, Alison looks at me evenly and says, "Your teeth are yellow because you

    drink coffee all day."

    Damn. Now that's some radical honesty for you. Maybe I should be more like a

    five-year-old. An hour later, she shows me her new pet bug -- a beetle of some sort that she has in her cupped


    "It's napping," she whispers.

    I nudge the insect with my finger. It doesn't move. Should I

    play along? No. I should tell her the truth, like she told me about my teeth.

    "It's not napping."


    looks confused.

    "It's dead."

    Alison runs to her father, dismayed. "Daddy, he just said a bad


    I feel like an #######. I frightened a five-year-old, probably out of revenge for an insult about my

    oral hygiene. I postpone again -- for a few more weeks. And then my boss tells me he needs the article for the July


    I start in again at dinner with my friend Brian. We are talking about his new living situation, and I

    decide to tell him the truth.

    "You know, I forget your fiancée's name."

    This is highly unacceptable

    -- they've been together for years; I've met her several times.

    "It's Jenny."

    In his book, Blanton

    talks about the thrill of total candor, the Space Mountain-worthy adrenaline rush you get from breaking taboos. As

    he writes, "You learn to like the excitement of mild, ongoing risk taking." This I felt.

    Luckily, Brian

    doesn't seem too pissed. So I decide to push my luck. "Yes, that's right. Jenny. Well, I resent you for not

    inviting me to you and Jenny's wedding. I don't want to go, since it's in Vermont, but I wanted to be


    "Well, I resent you for not being invited to your wedding."

    "You weren't invited? Really? I

    thought I had."


    "Sorry, man. That was a mistake."

    A breakthrough! We are communicating!

    Blanton is right. Brian and I crushed some eggshells. We are not stoic, emotionless men. I'm enjoying this. A

    little bracing honesty can be a mood booster.

    The next day, we get a visit from my wife's dad and


    "Did you get the birthday gift I sent you?" asks her stepmom.

    "Uh-huh," I say.


    sent me a gift certificate to Saks Fifth Avenue.

    "And? Did you like it?"

    "Not really. I don't like

    gift certificates. It's like you're giving me an errand to run."

    "Well, uh . . ."

    Once again, I felt

    the thrill of inappropriate candor. And I felt something else, too. The paradoxical joy of being free from choice. I

    had no choice but to tell the truth. I didn't have to rack my brain figuring out how to hedge it, spin it, massage


    "Just being honest," I shrug. Nice touch, I decide; helps take the edge off. She's got a thick skin.

    She'll be okay. And I'll tell you this: I'll never get a damn gift certificate from her again.

    I still

    tell plenty of lies every day, but by the end of the week I've slashed the total by at least 40 percent. Still, the

    giddiness is wearing off. A life of radical honesty is filled with a hundred confrontations every day. Small, but

    they're relentless.

    "Yes, I'll come to your office, but I resent you for making me travel."

    "My boss

    said I should invite you to this meeting, although it wouldn't have occurred to me to do so."

    "I have

    nothing else to say to you. I have run out of conversation."

    My wife tells me a story about switching

    operating systems on her computer. In the middle, I have to go help our son with something, then forget to come


    "Do you want to hear the end of the story or not?" she asks.

    " there a


    "#### you."

    It would have been a lot easier to have kept my mouth closed and listened to her.

    It reminds me of an issue I raised with Blanton: Why make waves? "Ninety percent of the time I love my wife," I told

    him. "And 10 percent of the time I hate her. Why should I hurt her feelings that 10 percent of the time? Why not

    just wait until that phase passes and I return to the true feeling, which is that I love her?"


    response: "Because you're a manipulative, lying son of a #####."

    Okay, he's right. It's manipulative and

    patronizing to shut up and listen. But it's exhausting not to.

    One other thing is also becoming apparent:

    There's a fine line between radical honesty and creepiness. Or actually no line at all. It's simple logic: Men

    think about sex every three minutes, as the scientists at Redbook remind us. If you speak whatever's on your mind,

    you'll be talking about sex every three minutes.

    I have a business breakfast with an editor from Rachael

    Ray's magazine. As we're sitting together, I tell her that I remember what she wore the first time we met -- a

    black shirt that revealed her shoulders in a provocative way. I say that I'd try to sleep with her if I were

    single. I confess to her that I just attempted (unsuccessfully) to look down her shirt during breakfast.


    smiles. Though I do notice she leans back farther in her seat.

    The thing is, the separate cubbyholes of my

    personality are merging. Usually, there's a professional self, a home self, a friend self, a with-the-guys self.

    Now, it's one big improper mess. This woman and I have either taken a step forward in our relationship, or she'll

    never return my calls again.

    When I get home, I keep the momentum going. I call a friend to say that I

    fantasize about his wife. (He says he likes my wife, too, and suggests a key party.)

    I inform our

    twenty-seven-year-old nanny that "if my wife left me, I would ask you out on a date, because I think you are


    She laughs. Nervously.

    "I think that makes you uncomfortable, so I won't mention it again.

    It was just on my mind."

    Now I've made my own skin crawl. I feel like I should just buy a trench coat and

    start lurking around subway platforms. Blanton says he doesn't believe sex talk in the workplace counts as sexual

    harassment -- it's tight-assed society's fault if people can't handle the truth -- but my nanny confession just

    feels like pure abuse of power.

    All this lasciviousness might be more palatable if I were a single man. In

    fact, I have a theory: I think Blanton devised Radical Honesty partly as a way to pick up women. It's a brilliant

    strategy. The antithesis of mind games. Transparent mating.

    And according to Blanton, it's effective. He

    tells me about a woman he once met on a Paris subway and asked out for tea. When they sat down, he said, "I didn't

    really want any tea; I was just trying to figure out a way to delay you so I could talk to you for a while, because

    I want to go to bed with you." They went to bed together. Or another seduction technique of his: "Wanna


    "That works?" I asked.

    "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's the creation of


    I lied today. A retired man from New Hampshire -- a friend of a friend -- wrote some poems and

    sent them to me. His wife just died, and he's taken up poetry. He just wanted someone in publishing to read his

    work. A professional opinion.

    I read them. I didn't like them much, but I wrote to him that I thought they

    were very good.

    So I e-mail Blanton for the first time since our meeting and confess what I did. I write,

    "His wife just died, he doesn't have friends. He's kind of pathetic. I read his stuff, or skimmed it actually. I

    didn't like it. I thought it was boring and badly written. So I e-mailed a lie. I said I really like the poems and

    hope they get published. He wrote me back so excited and how it made his week and how he was about to give up on

    them but my e-mail gave him the stamina to keep trying."

    I ask Blanton whether I made a mistake.


    responds curtly. I need to come to his eight-day workshop to "even begin to get what [Radical Honesty] is about." He

    says we need to meet in person.

    Meet in person? Did he toss down so many bourbons I vanished from his memory?

    I tell him we did meet.

    Blanton writes back testily that he remembers. But I still need to take a workshop

    (price tag: $2,800). His only advice on my quandary: "Send the man the e-mail you sent me about lying to him and ask

    him to call you when he gets it...and see what you learn."

    Show him the e-mail? Are you kidding? What a

    hardcore bastard.

    In his book, Radical Honesty, Blanton advises us to start sentences with the words "I

    resent you for" or "I appreciate you for." So I write him back.

    "I resent you for being so different in these

    e-mails than you were when we met. You were friendly and engaging and encouraging when we met. Now you seem to have

    turned judgmental and tough. I resent you for giving me the advice to break that old man's heart by telling him

    that his poems suck."

    Blanton responds quickly. First, he doesn't like that I expressed my resentment by

    e-mail. I should have come to see him. "What you don't seem to get yet, A.J., is that the reason for expressing

    resentment directly and in person is so that you can experience in your body the sensations that occur when you

    express the resentment, while at the same time being in the presence of the person you resent, and so you can stay

    with them until the sensations arise and recede and then get back to neutral -- which is what forgiveness


    Second, he tells me that telling the old man the truth would be compassionate, showing the "authentic

    caring underneath your usual intellectual bull#### and overvaluing of your critical judgment. Your lie is not useful

    to him. In fact, it is simply avoiding your responsibility as one human being to another. That's okay. It happens

    all the time. It is not a mortal sin. But don't bull#### yourself about it being kind."

    He ends with this:

    "I don't want to spend a lot of time explaining things to you for your cute little project of playing with telling

    the truth if you don't have the balls to try it."

    Condescending #####.

    I know my e-mail to the old

    man was wrong. I shouldn't have been so rah-rah effusive. But here, I've hit the outer limit of Radical Honesty, a

    hard wall. I can't trash the old man.

    I try to understand Blanton's point about compassion. To most of us,

    honesty often means cruelty.

    But to Blanton, honesty and compassion are the ones in sync. It's an intriguing

    way to look at the world, but I just don't buy it in the case of the widower poet. Screw Blanton. (By the way: I

    broke Radical Honesty and changed the identifying details of the old-man story so as not to humiliate him. Also,

    I've messed a bit with the timeline of events to simplify things. Sorry.)

    To compensate for my wimpiness, I

    decide to toughen up. Which is probably the exact wrong thing to do. Today, I'm getting a haircut, and my barber is

    telling me he doesn't want his wife to get pregnant because she'll get too fat (a bit of radical honesty of his

    own), and I say, "You know, I'm tired. I have a cold. I don't want to talk anymore. I want to


    "Okay," he says, wielding his scissors, "go ahead and read."

    Later, I do the same thing with my

    in-laws when they're yapping on about preschools. "I'm bored," I announce. "I'll be back later." And with that, I

    leave the living room.

    I tell Blanton, hoping for his approval. Did anything come of it? he asks. Any

    discussions and insights? Hmmm.

    He's right. If you're going to be a schmuck, at least you should find some

    redeeming quality in it. Blanton's a master of this. One of his tricks is to say things with such glee and

    enthusiasm, it's hard to get too pissed. "You may be a petty #######," he says, "but at least you're not a secret

    petty #######." Then he'll laugh.

    I have yet to learn that trick myself. Consider how I handled this scene

    at a diner a couple of blocks from my apartment.

    "Everything okay?" asked our server, an Asian man with


    "Yeah, except for the coffee. I always have to order espresso here, because the espresso tastes like

    regular coffee. The regular coffee here is terrible. Can't you guys make stronger coffee?"

    The waiter said

    no and walked away. My friend looked at me. "I'm embarrassed for you," he said. "And I'm embarrassed to be around


    "I know. Me, too." I felt like a Hollywood producer who parks in handicapped spots. I ask Blanton what

    I should have done.

    "You should have said, 'This coffee tastes like ####!' " he says, cackling.


    will say this: One of the best parts of Radical Honesty is that I'm saving a whole lot of time. It's a

    cut-to-the-chase way to live. At work, I've been waiting for my boss to reply to a memo for ten days. So I write

    him: "I'm annoyed that you didn't respond to our memo earlier. But at the same time, I'm relieved, because then

    if we don't nail one of the things you want, we can blame any delays on your lack of response."


    send makes me nervous -- but the e-mail works. My boss responds: "I will endeavor to respond by tomorrow. Been gone

    from N.Y. for two weeks." It is borderline apologetic. I can push my power with my boss further than I


    Later, a friend of a friend wants to meet for a meal. I tell him I don't like leaving my house. "I

    agree to meet some people for lunch because I fear hurting their feelings if I don't. And in this terrifying age

    where everyone has a blog, I don't want to offend people, because then they'd write on their blogs what an #######

    I am, and it would turn up in every Google search for the rest of my life."

    He writes back: "Normally, I

    don't really like meeting editors anyway. Makes me ill to think about it, because I'm afraid of coming off like

    the idiot that, deep down, I suspect I am."

    That's one thing I've noticed: When I am radically honest,

    people become radically honest themselves. I feel my resentment fade away. I like this guy. We have a good


    In fact, all my relationships can take a whole lot more truth than I expected. Consider this one:

    For years, I've had a chronic problem where I refer to my wife, Julie, by my sister's name, Beryl. I always catch

    myself midway through and pretend it didn't happen. I've never confessed to Julie. Why should I? It either means

    that I'm sexually attracted to my sister, which is not good. Or that I think of my wife as my sister, also not


    But today, in the kitchen, when I have my standard mental sister-wife mix-up, I decide to tell Julie

    about it.

    "That's strange," she says.

    We talk about it. I feel unburdened, closer to my wife now that

    we share this quirky, slightly disturbing knowledge. I realize that by keeping it secret, I had given it way too

    much weight. I hope she feels the same way.

    I call up Blanton one last time, to get his honest opinion about

    how I've done.

    "I'm finishing my experiment," I say.

    "You going to start lying again?" he


    "Hell yeah."

    "Oh, ####. It didn't work."

    "But I'm going to lie less than I did


    I tell him about my confession to Julie that I sometimes want to call her Beryl. "No big deal," says

    Blanton. "People in other cultures have sex with their sisters all the time."

    I bring up the episode about

    telling the editor from Rachael Ray's magazine that I tried to look down her shirt, but he sounds disappointed.

    "Did you tell your wife?" he asks. "That's the good part."

    Finally, I describe to him how I told Julie that

    I didn't care to hear the end of her story about fixing her computer. Blanton asks how she responded.


    said, '#### you.' "

    "That's good!" Blanton says. "I like that. That's communicating."

  2. #2
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    Default laughing here, great

    article. I

    guess there's got to be a difference between being honest and being brutally honest. I like being honest as it

    keeps your head clear, no need to take notes if you are always telling the truth. Also, I think this technique

    might help guys in getting laid more. I remember long ago at a wedding reception at a hotel my ex-wife, a Thai,

    spotted a middle-aged man with a terribly disfigured face, she went right up to him and asked him what happened

    while everyone else sorta just looked away. He was appreciative. On the other hand, my ex would lie about just

    anything in order not to lose face, very important in Thai culture and difficult for Westerners, including myself,

    to understand. One could also look at the CIA's motto: "The Truth Shall Set You Free" and think, well - yes,

    that's true but look at it from another angle, perhaps by being truthful you are free. I'm amazed that there's

    been no additional comments on this posting.
    There is a cure for electile dysfuntion!!!!

  3. #3
    Moderator belgareth's Avatar
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    It was a fun article, gave me a

    good chuckle. But I can't see where that type of brutal honesty will get you anywhere. To be honest while trying to

    do things in such a way as to not hurt another person's feelings needlessly is a good compromise. To quote another

    unknown author "If you think honesty is the best policy try telling your boss what you think of his 'charming'

    kids, or your wife what you really think of her mother." There's the truth then there are necessarry white lies to

    grease social wheels.
    To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

    Thomas Jefferson

  4. #4
    Phero Enthusiast tenaciousBLADE's Avatar
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    communictaing" my ### haha...
    Communicating is when you're somewhat aware of he other person's feelings and do

    your best to deliver your message while NOT hurting that person.. that must be the attitude in order for the

    other person to feel safe enough with you to be wanting to truly, honestly open his\her communication

    channels to you.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing it with us
    Last edited by tenaciousBLADE; 09-12-2007 at 03:11 PM. Reason: spelling

  5. #5
    Moderator idesign's Avatar
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    Brutal honesty? I don't like

    it. I already get called fathead enough.

    I agree with Bel and TB, its just not acceptable to step

    on people. Kinda funny though to think about what you'd REALLY like to say to some people, and how they might


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