When I was a child, my dad invented a game that I loved. Wherever we went, he’d predict what strangers were about to say or do. We’d walk into a store and he’d point at the salesman and say something like, “Watch this. When I tell him how much I’m willing to spend, he’ll immediately show me something more expensive.” The salesman did exactly as Dad had prophesized. When Dad took me to my first concert, he told me the musician would ask the audience how they were feeling tonight and, when everyone cheered wildly, would respond, “I can’t hear you!” It wasn’t long before the musician spoke those exact words.
It felt like magic, like Dad was telling the future or reading minds, so I asked how he did it. Most people follow a script, he said. I asked him why and I remember him replying, “Because they’re afraid that if they say what they really feel, people won’t like them. And they’d rather be liked than be honest.” I knew then that I wanted to be honest, regardless of the consequences. I stuck to that for the next 25 years. And there were consequences.
In my family, honesty wasn’t just the best policy—it was the only policy. This was never explicitly stated; there was no family contract or manifesto, and my parents never came out and said, “We don’t lie under any circumstances.” But I still learned the lesson that they were very strict in how they defined a lie—and their definition included much of what was considered polite or normal. They led by example, by just being themselves. I had no sense that a question could be considered inappropriate or that anyone would refuse to answer. Even when I was 4 and 5, Dad would respond to my curiosity with long-winded history and philosophy, explaining things such as the scientific method or the subconscious mind, or telling details from his own life and feelings that many would have kept hidden.