(And why honesty is the long-lost friend you need back in your life…)
I sometimes wake early in the morning thinking about stupid stuff I’ve done and whether or not I have the guts to write about it.
Like the time I pulled a girl in the queue for the cloakroom at the end of a club night, then did a runner when I realised she had a pronounced limp.
Or how I sent my parents an Amazon Affiliate link so I could earn commission on a present they were buying me last Christmas.
Other times I roll straight over to grab my phone and see how many new likes I have on Instagram, then look for retweets on Twitter, check all three of my email accounts and then try to get back to sleep. Which never works, of course.
According to the writer and psychotherapist Brad Blanton (cheers for the article headline Brad) there are three levels of honesty.
The first of these is simply “revealing the facts”.
Babies don’t know how to lie.
They just cry and eat and poop and sleep.
The comedian Louis C.K. has gut-wrenchingly hilarious routines about what a pain in the ass his children are. There’s even one about how much his daughter poops. Honest and funny at the same time. Boom!
Anyhow, back to the lies.
Lying is a learned behaviour woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Eventually babies discover that crying can get them what they want.
It all escalates from there, I guess.
We lie to make ourselves look better. It usually seems like the safest way through a conversation. We also lie because it gives the illusion of control over people’s perception of us.
“Hey, how are you?”
“Yeah, good thanks”.
Firstly, no-one really expects you to answer that question honestly.
It’s a conversational default. It’s healthy to question these kinds of defaults now and again, I think.
Secondly, no-one is ever just “ok.”
What the fuck does that mean?
You are either tired and grumpy and generally can’t be arsed, or all fired up and wanting to scream and shout or fuck like any other regular mammalian creature, or hating on nothing and everything in the universe, or so loved up that you want to give people hugs and tell them everything’s gonna work out fine in the end.
A few of my friends have been asking if I’m “ok” since I started writing these kind of blog posts.
I guess I’m not any less ok than I used to be.
I am just trying to engage more openly with my thoughts and feelings (which is Honesty Level 2 according to Brad Blanton).
The other day I was riding my bike and a guy nearly opened his car door on me.
I gave him the middle finger and a couple of minutes later I was shouting “FUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU WORLD” at the top of my lungs at no-one in particular. Except for the guy walking along with this kid on the pavement in front of me, who wasn’t best pleased. Then I felt like a douchebag for a bit. And then I forgot about it.
Another friend asked “Is it the anonymity of a big city that makes you write so openly?”, which is a fair question of someone with a track record in extreme quietness.
Why am I writing this?
I don’t think it’s anything to do with living in London.
At a most base level, I’m finding it cathartic to be writing about all the crazy stuff that’s happened to me in the past 18 months.
Maybe it’s little easier for me because for the first time in my life I don’t have a job. I can publish anything online and not worry about a potential employer finding it. (Last year I made myself a promise never to have a boss again).
Aside from not having a job, I don’t have a girlfriend either. Or any money. I spent all of my savings on a trip across America, trying to save a relationship, and bootstrapping CycleLove.
So yeah, it feels like I don’t have much to lose, or any barriers to being honest, at least online.
I’m not so good at being open in my person-to-person transactions, yet.
Why should you bother to tell the truth when attempting to manipulate it has become the habit of a lifetime?
I was going to try and write a complete list of “reasons to be honest”, but I can’t because I haven’t truly discovered all of them for myself yet. You can google those kinds of lists if you want to, of course. They will probably have less swear words in them.
Here are some reasons to be honest I can vouch for so far:
Being honest reduces stress. You don’t have to keep track of lies you have told. As the Roman rhetorician Quintilian said — “A liar should have a good memory”. Every lie is a repressed feeling which can potentially worm its way into you as some kind of physical ailment if you don’t let it out verbally. Let that shit out, man. If you can’t, remember at least to keep breathing. Nice long, deep belly breathes. I am always forgetting to breathe. Maybe stop now and take a few long breathes. Feels good, right?
Honesty makes you more interesting. You’ll have more stories you can tell. The more open my writing has become, the more messages I’ve had from people thanking me or asking when the next post will be (or if I’m “ok”). Open yourself up and see what’s inside. You might be a really funny motherfucker, like Louis C.K. Or find you can spill your guts into music like John Grant who counts addiction, depression and his diagnosis as HIV positive amongst his lyrical subjects of choice.
Honesty is the new branding.
People can see through your ‘marketing’ crap. The more expensive the product, the more lies its marketeers usually dream up. Just look at the way things like cards and diamonds are advertised. Diamonds are a big motherfucker of a scam cooked up by ad men back in 1938. Cars are sold as ego defence mechanisms.
Lies drive wedges between people. Honesty can bring you closer again. Yeah, the trust thing. If you are honest, you can create trust. Some people think you need to have trust before you can be honest, but I think they’ve got it the wrong way around.
Honesty creates freedom. Honesty makes you feel more alive. Imagine being able to say the first thing that comes into your head. Describing how you feel, instead of what you are thinking. Trust me, as an over-thinker this is a game changer because it helps you stay in the present moment. If you are depressed, a willingness to engage with the truth of your situation could be your way out.
Telling the truth lets you grow up. Your behaviour is probably based on stuff that happened to you as kid. Maybe you are still blaming other people for hurting you. I know I am. It’s not their fault though. If you stop acting based on past experiences, you can move on, maybe even experiment with some new behaviours.
Honesty exposes the fiction in your life. This is Brad Blanton’s Level 3 of honesty — “admitting you don’t know who you are”.
It feels like a pretty stupid thing to say at first.
But eventually it becomes liberating.
Who are you?
Who am I?
I admit it.
I don’t know.
I have no fucking idea who I am right now. I don’t know if I want to be a graphic designer any more. Maybe I could be a writer. Earlier in the week I went on a crazy training ride on my bike and after about 100km hit a mental wall and had to stop. I told my friends to carry on without me but they waited. Really I wanted to start crying and tell them what a crazy year I’ve just had. Usually when I push myself physically I find myself thinking this kind of stuff after a while. I recommend it. I remember wondering if I should swap my road bike for a tourer and pedal the Highlands of Scotland like some kind of bearded bike-riding nomad for a few months, or sell all my stuff and become a musician. I probably won’t though. I don’t have the guts.
If you look at Twitter profiles, including mine, most people answer the “Who am I?” question with a list of family roles, occupations or hobbies “not necessarily in that order” and favourite caffeinated drinks.
If you are a decaffeinated skinny latte, you have a problem. Seriously.
As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club:
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
No-one else really cares that much about you. But you should. Pay attention to what’s going on inside that jail of bullshit you’ve built in your head.
Be honest with yourself.
It’s not easy. It take guts, and practice. Sometime it hurts like hell.
Who are you, right now?
Writing on honesty I’ve found useful
Radical Honesty, How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton, who was trained by the founder of gestalt therapy Fritz Perls. Some of it is a little extreme for my tastes but the core is gold — “The mind is a jail built out of bullshit. This book tells how the bullshit jail of the mind gets built and how to escape.”
Almost everything on James Altucher’s blog but specifically 7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest. When he says “For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog”, well, he’s not kidding. If you search for the phrase “I don’t know” on his site you get 155 results. I love that.
I wish I had no self-awareness like the guys I know
Float right through their lives without a thought
And that I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought of me
That I was so relaxed you’d think that I was bored