Honesty Salons at the Arlene Francis Center

I started hosting a Honesty Salons at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, California, and their application asked me to describe my event and connect it with the AFC’s values. I wrote up the essay below in about a night and I feel pretty proud of it. It takes a question that has been really bugging me – what exactly is an Honesty Salon? – and tackles it from a particular angle.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to describe a Honesty Salons in a single paragraph…

The essay is below.

The purpose of the Honesty Salon / Radical Honesty Practice Group is to create a space and time for people to relate to themselves and others in a non-normative, transformational way. In “Salon,” participants attempt to relate to their here-and-now experience with as much awareness and honest sharing as they can with the intention of achieving authenticity, integrity, and intimacy.

The starting point of this practice lines up perfectly with the Arlene Francis Center’s vision: “We begin with the understanding that the fundamental problem confronting today’s world is that we cannot see one another for who we really are… We recognize that in the culture we have inherited and stretching over hundreds if not thousands of years, we have become “alienated” from each other, from ourselves, and from the natural world, pressed by our Fear of the Other to deny our deepest longings for authentic contact and connection and to live spiritually impoverished lives of unnecessary separation and mutual distance.”

Honesty Salons are premised on the idea that all of this is true, and also that a significant factor in alienation and suffering is bullshit – disconnection and concealment that appears in various forms including ignorance, selective inattention, withholding, dishonesty, and manipulation on the personal level. As humans we all have the tendency to do these things. This practice allows us to recognize, metabolize, and sublimate these tendencies, by helping people communicate their reality through statements such as, “I’m noticing that I want to tell you I’ve been certified in this practice for three years now… and I think part of my motivation is that I want you to be impressed so that you’ll like me. I think deep down I’m feeling attracted to you and a little insecure.”

This practice grew out of the “encounter groups” of the work of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. Perls said, “lose your mind and come to your senses.” He preached that our minds often interrupt our experience of life, and that the richness of life arises through attending to ourselves and others in the present moment. For example, our minds often rigidify our experiences of our emotions from the past, so if we can express and feel our feelings from the past then we can move through them and relate more fully in the present moment. Famously, after his family was killed in the Holocaust, he expressed his anger towards Hitler (rather, an empty chair that he imagined Hitler was sitting in) until that anger was exhausted and he could go about his daily life without it weighing him down or distracting him from the life that was actually in front of him. I interpret that as creating justice, kindness, and love for one’s own self.

Honesty Salons extend these ideals by inviting people to stop performing some of the normative social pretending and posturing of everyday life and to instead show up as their full selves, allowing them to get into contact with the people in the room in a new way. If anything gets in participants’ way – internalized oppressive structures, limiting beliefs, transference from past relationships, etc. – participants are invited to look at those patterns. By simply increasing awareness of those patterns, participants frequently experience spontaneous transformative qualities including insight, liberation, compassion, and empowerment. Participants often suddenly feel freer, change their own behavior, and relate to others differently. This Honesty Salon approach allows change without anyone pressuring others or forcing themselves to be different; Honesty Salons provide a nonviolent approach to personal growth.

I care about this practice because I was abused for over 25 years by multiple members of my family of origin, and my attempts to reconcile with them and understand the abuse simply added to my trauma. This practice helped me heal by building strong relationships, and I have seen it help others heal their grief, loneliness, shyness, depression, social anxiety, hypervigilance, and more, all while making friends. I care about this practice because through it I have seen a world in miniature that includes relational wealth for everyone, a world that can fulfill my deepest longings and aspirations.

In other words, this practice allows us to meet our “desire for mutual recognition, a desire to see and be seen as good-hearted and decent people who seek to become fully present to each other” by “transforming human relationships so as to overcome the fear that divides us and enables us to become present to each other in a new and affirming way.”

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