Radical Honesty vs Flexible Honesty
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare
I once had a friend who, come hell or high-water, she was determined to always tell the whole truth about her past. This included a myriad of things, including a slew of debauchery and promiscuity that riddled her late-teens and early twenties. I was not special — she believed being an open book about her sexual past was important for all her lovers and relationships, and on many levels, she was not wrong. We are urged to be more and more open and radical with our honesty to others about everything from sexual partners to political leanings, and even in more trivial moments, like Team Jacob and Team Edward or Snape is Good and Snape is Evil. Honesty is like an artists self-portrait, no matter how true to form they make it, someone is still going to say it looks nothing like them.
I think of this cultural fixation on the unfiltered truth to be Radical Honesty. That is a form of honesty that comes directly from the root or source and has been left entirely untampered with. Most people — myself included would probably question why anyone would have an issue with this total and complete level of honesty, and they would be right to do so. We have worked for hundreds of thousands of years to fully represent ourselves without societal restrictions on who or what we are and choose to represent. However, I think there is a psychological context that must be considered when choosing to be radically honest all the time. I even want to posture the idea that radical honesty, sometimes, can paint a not-so honest interpretation of our own intent.
It leads to the question of what information is relevant the context. Are you hurting your relationship by introducing concepts, truths, a history that would not otherwise play any hindrance or stigma on the relationship, but after its introduction actually creates a void or disconnect in the situation? This is where radical honesty has to be taken to task. It feels good to always speak the absolute truth, to be entirely open, transparent, an open-book, and so on. However, can you be too honest when you treat every part of your life like a folded-timeline?
That is where Flexible Honesty comes in, and where things rightfully become a little trickier. Flexible Honesty is the concept of being open and transparent, in context and timely in nature to your environment. This means that you are not manipulating people, you are not lying about things or leaving out information, but instead, you are consciously choosing what is important to create a conversation about, and what is really insignificant and could cause far more problems if unpacked and picked at.
Let’s say that you have been a vegetarian for fourteen years of your life, and then one day you ordered a black-bean burger off a menu with options ranging from vegan to full-bore carnivore. When you take a bite into your black bean burger, you realize that you have taken a large bite of ground beef. A mistake, and not yours. Now flash-forward to three days later when you are on a first date with a cute vegan guy who likes that you’re vegetarian, but presses to see if you are the real deal. Do you tell him you ate a quarter of ground beef and swallowed it down just a few days prior, accidentally — or do you skip that truth, and instead focus on the more honest reply, which is that you have been a solidly vegetarian for fourteen years? Sometimes burdening yourself to tell the _most true_ story, does not always paint the _most real_ picture of yourself. And in the case of the vegetarian lady and vegan guy… The answer is to not go on a second date with him, because, seriously, why is he pressing so hard about your dietary preferences on the first date? Goodnight, Vegan-Guy.
Honesty is like an artists self-portrait, no matter how true to form they make it, someone is still going to say it looks nothing like them.
Neither level of honesty is perfect, but they are both more necessary than we often give credence to. Personally, I have seen so many relationships — business, friendship, and romantic — that have been ruined and plagued with paranoia because of radical honesty. While I have seen many people fall off the wagon when practicing flexible honesty. These are not easy concepts, and as humans, we are flawed and built to protect ourselves from danger. Unfortunately, honesty in all its continuum and spectrums is something that provides immense danger in society, at least in appearance. What matters most is awareness. You are never going to get every conversation right, but knowing when it’s appropriate to mention that your ex-girlfriend from high school started sending you Snap’s and when not to mention that you once cuddle naked with your frat-brother, in college because the heater was broken and he told you he did not really like your girlfriend. It is not about dishonesty, it is about properly utilizing every type of honesty to live and behave in the most transparent and real way you can with others.