The Radical Honesty Experiment

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

No, I didn’t conduct an interview with Usama Bin Laden (from beyond the watery grave).

I heard something that intrigued me a while ago from Laurie Gerber from the Handel Group:

“I teach radical honesty; that means communicating even when a feeling is uncomfortable or even when I am scared to because I don’t want to face the other person’s reaction. But I have practiced difficult conversations enough to know the alternative is worse: living in misconception, feeling dis-ease, not having fun with my playmates and generally liking myself less. Ick. It’s worth the discomfort of speaking up to get rid of that toxic cloud. In a dialogue, everything changes. And you really forget that; you really think the dialogue in your head (or with the friend you are gossiping to) covers all bases, but it doesn’t. You have no idea where the other person is coming from. Please find out.”

So I decided I’d give this radical honesty business a try.

Turns out it’s heckuva lot easier being honest with myself (read: beating myself up) than being honest with other people. Especially people I love. The greater the love, the harder it is for me to tell them what I really feel.

I’m scared I might lose them and I think my friendships are much weaker because of it.

The following is a collection of random observations taken during the week on where and what I hide and from whom. It may not make much sense, but that’s because I was updating a Gmail draft at work whenever a thought struck me. I ask you to bear with me, lovely readers.

I tend to obfuscate and manipulate the truth, making it hard to get to for the person I’m communicating with.

I tend to keep my true feelings and my true needs to myself.

In the quest for real human connection, I tend to over-complicate my life looking for it. Maybe performance and comedy is a way for me to connect or at least try to connect. Most people just laugh and leave. Some write me emails afterward – those I love. But stand-up for me isn’t a patch on improv. Being part of an improv troupe is very much about trust, support and the group over the individual. Needy people not allowed.

I love Improv. And I like performing.

However when it gets raunchy, nope, not comfortable. Not the first person to say that and probably won’t be the last.

I am scared of my father. And I haven’t spoken honestly and openly to my mother in a long while. Nothing hurts me more than our fake laughter. We used to be friends. Really good friends. I used to tell her everything. Now I can’t tell her anything.

I discovered that it’s okay to ask questions, even dumb ones, even at work. Guess what? Most of the time, I’ll get an answer, because people are rarely anuses if you speak to them politely.

I learned from my boss, that if I follow my passion, I can inspire everyone around me without needing to give a pep talk.

I love the Little Comets. They’re messy wounded hoons in tracksuit bottoms and trainers singing musically jagged tunes on trams and in lecture halls, anywhere someone will listen. And I’m not sure what entirely they’re on about some of the time, but this girl in Dubai gets it.

There’s something about art that allows people to ‘get’ it even if they don’t entirely understand the ‘story’, to taste the meat even though the curry is unfamiliar. That’s what I want more of in my life. Not curry, art.

I read about the World Bank report about hunger. It killed me. To soothe myself, I ate a chocky bicky (irony much?). I want to do something about this. I tried to talk myself out of it – saying I’m more into gender issues. But hunger kills men, women and children everywhere. I’m a Muslim and a human being first. A woman and a writer second.

Authority figures scare me. A lot. I’m scared to call people more than anything. It makes me feel like a bad journalist and for some weird reason, guilty?

I’m frightened to enter the Al Shasha screenwriting competition.

I was honest with my client who called me after hours. I don’t want to work in the night-time. It was uncomfortable but I felt better and I felt freer.

I am sometimes surprised by the sound of my own voice.

I imagine disappointment and pain even before it happens. Sometimes it is of epic devastating proportions.

I don’t really think that I deserve happiness and I reckon my parents don’t think so either.

I’m going to write a letter to my parents to tell them honestly about everything and I haven’t the faintest idea where to start. And yes, I am going to actually give them the letter.

I don’t know what they’re going to do. Maybe they’ll get mad. Maybe they’ll get sad. Maybe it’ll make things worse. Maybe it’ll make things better. I don’t know. It’s all in Allah’s Hands. I don’t want to go to Him on the Last Day and say I didn’t try everything I knew to communicate with them with love and respect.

Yes. I’m scared.

Will let you know how that goes.

May Allah’s Grace protect you wherever you go and whatever you do, Ameen.


P.S. Bismillah. UPDATE! I was honest about something that I’ve keeping to myself for a very long time waiting for someone to understand.

It was quite freeing. My focus and my concentration improved dramatically after that single simple admission.

However, being honest has consequences. And this particular admission may have had HUGE consequences (so far, so good Alhamdulillah). Be prepared to be surprised. Be prepared to be snubbed. Be prepared to be forgiven.

I need to be prepared.

Peace out, y’all.



P.P.S Bismillah. 17th July: Incremental honesty is probably more affective than radical honesty, as incremental changes are more sustainable. I started with myself, will continue with people I work with (whom I respect, but don’t necessarily like) and slowly but surely, people I love. This is a continuous struggle and people are surprising, but true authenticity is worth it.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,


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