What is the brutal truth about stress

Just the pure, sheer, brutal and sometimes painful truth

The power of lies strikes at 9:16 a.m. “Hey, how are you?” Asks the neighbor in the stairwell. “Great, everything's fine, can't complain!” I reply.

Lie number one.

“Can you use soy milk instead of normal milk?” Asks the saleswoman, from whom I buy my coffee five minutes later, “the other one is out.” “Yes, of course, I don't taste any difference anyway,” I reply.

Lie number two.

"Esther, can you take over the production service?" The colleague asks me later in the office because of an acute wave of colds. “Yes, that works, I don't have that much stress at the moment anyway!” I say.

Lie number three.

It's not even 12 noon and I've lied three times today.

This text and the following two will hurt. I'd better say it in advance. Not that someone later accuses me of not telling the truth. Because that's exactly what this is about: the pure, bare, brutal and sometimes painful truth that adults push aside countless times a day so that this madness called life works at all. So that you can endure your colleagues and they can take you too, so that your partner doesn't get lost faster than you can pronounce the word "truth", so that your best friend is not injured even though being late annoys you so much that you get to her when she arrives just want to roar in the face. And anyway, this guy who pangs her head all night long and interprets every WhatsApp message down to the last letter when asked whether he wants it or not. Yes, honey, he wants you, he has very little time and a lot of work, I say.

Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. Lied again. The truth is, he will never leave his family. Believe me, honey. But who is already armed for the truth?

Is it even possible to always honestly share your feelings and thoughts?

Another word for a lie is euphemism. And this word is a double lie, because not only its meaning, but also its strange sound obscures what it actually does: gloss over. We lie to make things smoother. So that the world is no longer so hard, so that relationships work, families, societies and communities of states. Without diplomacy, there was constant war. Because lying sometimes also means: for the sake of mutual cooperation, not telling the whole truth. Or formulate it diplomatically. Everyone knows this (except for Donald Trump and toddlers up to three years old).

But what if we all always told the truth? What if we stopped fooling others - and ourselves? If every time I opened my mouth I actually said what I was thinking and feeling at that moment? Without any soft focus, freely.

When I think about the thought for the first time, I laugh hysterically for a moment. But only in silence. Logical. Shouldn't any of the colleagues in the open-plan office see what thoughts I'm really thinking. But after I've finished the hysterical laughter in my head, I ask myself again: what if I stopped using all the everyday lies? If I were more honest - radically honest?

The thought fascinates me. I start googling. And find out that I'm not the only person who's already asked this question. There is actually a concept that revolves around this very question. Or rather a whole movement that revolves around the term radical honesty has formed. It goes back to the initiative of the American psychotherapist Brad Blanton, who made a bestseller in the 1990s radical honesty wrote and has been going around the world with his workshops ever since. “Radical honesty is a tool on the way to a more empathic life. Because empathy means finding out something about the similarities between you and the other person, ”says Blanton.

Aha. Interesting I think. But, to be honest: Sounds pretty crazy too.

I am a scared person. I would like to be different, more independent - above all, more independent of my head. But: It is important to me what others think of me. As a journalist, I have no problem giving my opinion. Not even getting stuck on a story or annoying protagonists until they talk to me. But as a private person I hate to be in an argument with someone or in a conflict situation. I prefer to put my own thoughts and feelings aside and hide the truth from myself. And I'm mostly: nice. Why not? The world is unfriendly enough as it is. Constantly telling the other person what I am really thinking sounds as challenging to me as, say, running a marathon. Not a bad idea in itself - but why should I do this torture to myself?

After a week of being radically honest and tackling the Truth Marathon, would I still have a partner? My job And my joy?

Very hypothetical, of course, such thoughts. So it doesn't help: to really find answers, I have to try it out. I will always say what I think and feel for a week. Without filter. And without letting my friends, partner and colleagues know. God be with me! (And the people around me!)

How does my girlfriend react when I tell her the truth?

The first opportunity to practice arises on Monday evening. I'm invited to a friend's place, it's her birthday. We are sitting in the kitchen with her 13 year old son. The doorbell rings, the neighbor brings a package that the messenger has parked with her. "Oh yes!", Says the friend excitedly, puts down the package and impatiently begins to tear off the tape at the edges with a kitchen knife.

"I gave it to myself for my birthday, it was really expensive, but I really wanted it!", She says excitedly, a smile on her face. She puts the knife down, unfolds the box and pulls out a gray sweater.
“What does really expensive mean?” I ask skeptically.
“Well, 100 euros,” says my friend.

I stare at her first, then the gray sweater in her hands. I find it ugly, whatever. I would never have spent so much money on a sweater like this. But she treated herself to the sweater. And it's her birthday! So I want to say something that she is happy about, a sentence that makes her feel good, something like: "Ah yes, yes, I can already see why you think the sweater is so good" - although in reality I think: "Really now? THAT part was so expensive ?! But it looks like an old sweater off the rack! "

But I'm in practice mode. So I take a deep breath and sit up a little in my chair. Then I hear myself say:

"The sweater looks like a 20 euro item!"

I hold my breath

But my girlfriend doesn't even look my way. She fiddles with the sweater, smooths it, she has meanwhile put it on. Then she just says: “Yes, but it's a size too big. I liked it so much on the net. I'll send it back and order it smaller. "

She doesn't say more. She doesn't bark at me, she isn't offended - she stays very calm. Wow i think. That was easy!

Encouraged by that evening, I try the second time the next morning, this time in the office. I want the next honesty kick. Josa, the new and always so friendly young colleague, whose text I am responsible for as editor, has to believe in it. He sent me his article in our editorial chat. I am supposed to check whether it has the necessary focus, whether the scenes and arguments are arranged in a logical sequence, whether the language is right, the structure is correct, and I also scan grammar and spelling. It is the second text that Josa is responsible for. Already in the first one I noticed: Josa doesn't put the quotation marks as they should be. He puts it at the beginning of a quote at the top instead of at the bottom. And he doesn't use dashes properly either. It's just minor things - but they annoy me. Because for me these little things now meant: more work. I need to convert any incorrect punctuation marks in Josa's text to correct ones.

Finally being honest in the office: the new colleague is my victim

As an editor, I usually swear to myself briefly at such moments, get angry, correct, stay friendly - and say: nothing. But “normally” was the day before yesterday.

So my new, radically honest me writes: “Josa, I think it really sucks that you always put the quotation marks at the beginning of a sentence up, although they belong down, and then I have to change that. That annoys me. ”It takes some effort to type this sentence. Isn't he too rude? Especially because Josa is always so nice and I have worked very well with him so far?

I exhale, the sentence is finished in my chat window. I just have to press "Enter" so that it reaches Josa. I hesitate. Read again. Hesitate further. Imagine Josa sitting in front of his computer, irritated, when he reads these words. How he gets angry afterwards. Unsure. And goes over to counterattack.

I change the word "shit" to "stupid". Then I hit the Enter key. The clock in the chat shows 11:33. My pulse is going faster.

But Josa doesn't answer. I'm getting more nervous every minute. Why doesn't he write back? Is he mad? Or maybe just on the toilet? Or in the kitchen? Or quickly to the post office? Or is he on the phone? Maybe he just needs to call his mother, some emergency? Or is he taking a lunch break? Munching on pasta with sauce?

My mind is racing.

At 11.46 a.m. Josa still did not answer. So I shoot again, I'm "on fire" now. At 11.47 am I write: "As an editor, I am not there to put the quotation marks and dashes correctly - an author should do that himself."

Uiuiui. Now I get a guilty conscience. I would like to take back the sent words. Because I don't want Josa to feel bad because of too harsh criticism. But it's too late. I can no longer delete the words from the chat. And that's exactly the problem with the whole truth: once it's out, it's too late. All that comes after that is only: damage control.

What is the difference between honesty and truth?

Josa still doesn't answer. I slide back and forth in my chair. And start pondering. At 11:33 am, my honest words were that Josa should kindly take care of his punctuation himself. Basta. But now, 14 minutes later, I feel sorry for those words. I wouldn't repeat it like this. If I said this honestly to Josa, apologizing and negating my former words, I would have fulfilled my condition: I would have been radically honest in both moments. But in a completely contradicting way. How should my counterpart deal with it without being confused?

It is 11.50 a.m. Still no answer.

I keep thinking: what does the word honesty actually mean? Isn't the radical honesty approach naive? Because honesty is not static, but fluid, and can change from moment to moment? For example, where would it lead if I said to my friend today “I love you!” And tomorrow, if I was annoyed by him about something small: “I just want you to move out! Love? I don't feel now! ”Both times I would be honest, solely committed to myself and the moment - but no one could endure such a swaying between the poles. Is there such a thing as radical honesty at all? And what is the difference between honesty and truth, this word that is so battered and worn out in this day and age? A statement can be honest - but that doesn't mean it's true. Who then decides which “truth” counts in the end?

It is 11:52 a.m. Still no news from Josa.

What is he doing? He's pissed off, I'm sure. And decide: I need to know more about the concept of radical honesty. I need the knowledge of experts. And clear instructions for action. I google. After a few minutes I find a workshop in Munich. "Radical honesty - open community day and intro" is his name. That's it! I will go there!

Just when I want to book a train ticket, it goes “bling!” - a message has been received in the editorial chat for me.

It is 11:58 a.m. Answer from Josa.

How does my colleague react to honest criticism? And why do I have to be shouted at and insulted by a total stranger at the workshop in Munich? You can read that in the second part of my series "The Whole Truth".


Editor: Theresa Bäuerlein; Final editing: Vera Fröhlich; Photo editing and portraits: Martin Gommel; Audio: Iris Hochberger.