WikiLeaks, You and Me: How We Can Adopt a Full-Disclosure Policy in Our Personal Lives

12/09/2010 03:50 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Arjuna Ardagh Awakening coach, writer, teacher and public speaker

What does the latest publication of leaked secret documents by (now have to do with you, me and the rest of us?

Nothing, you might say.

And everything, you might also say.

The State Department's response has been inevitable and predictable. The same questions get asked every time embarrassing information is leaked. Who divulged this information? How can we stop it being spread any further? How can we prevent this from ever happening again? They don't ask how to prevent the two-faced lying and encouragement for diplomats to train in espionage. No, that's ok. All that matters is preventing themselves from getting caught next time.

You may have already had a chance to watch a great movie that was released recently called "The Inside Job," directed by Charles Ferguson. The movie documents the behind-the-scenes activity that led to the financial breakdown in the fall of 2008, and the collapse of AIG, Lehman Brothers and many other institutions. There is a fantastic scene in the movie that highlights exactly the same response to the exposure of corruption and secrecy. In a televised hearing, Senator Carl Levin asks a former executive at Goldman Sachs, "What do you think about selling securities which your own people think are 'crap'?" Levin is referring to confidential internal e-mail, now subpoenaed for this hearing. There is a disoriented pause. The pinstripe suited exec looks around himself in panic. Finally comes his response, as frightening as it is hilarious: "I think it is very unfortunate that anyone would state that opinion in an e-mail." The question is not, "Are we being ethical?" or even, "Are we doing good business?" but, "How did we get caught?"

But this post is not just about those bad guys out there, and how to punish them and replace them with someone else. If we're honest with ourselves, we can find exactly the same tendencies in our own lives.

I had a coaching client recently who was experiencing unusually high levels of stress: sleeping badly, making errors at work, and taking more than an occasional tipple from the bottle. He wanted support in managing those stress levels in order to be more productive in his business life. So he came to me as an awakening coach. I always meet my clients as whole people, considering that what they eat and how much they play with their kids and how much they exercise is relevant to every other aspect of their lives. As we dove a little deeper together, he told me that he was having an occasional affair with a co-worker and keeping it a secret from his wife.

I asked him what would happen if he told his wife the truth. "You must be crazy," he snapped back. "If I told my wife that I was having an affair, it would end our marriage." In fact, his marriage was anyway already on the rocks. "Maybe," I suggested to him, "It is not telling your wife the truth that might end your marriage. 'Fessing up might induce a temporary period of intense discomfort, but might also open up a whole new level of intimacy and understanding."

Believe it or not, he took the risk. He did as I suggested, in this case without the help of Julian Assange or any other whistleblower. And just as I had suspected, they went through a horribly rough few days, but they came out the other side. Now he's sleeping better, he's stopped drinking and he feels more creative with his work. He stopped having his affair and is discovering new depths with his wife at home.

Every time I switch on the news, every time I meet with my clients or teach trainings for coaches, every time we have dinner with our friends, I feel that I hear the same thing. When I show up for a meeting of one of the two mens' groups that I'm involved in, or just hang with my wife and children, I hear it more deeply. The game is up on secrets and lies. Put your ear to the ground and listen. There's a a shift in the collective, which has been contributed to by many factors.

For example, Mari Smith, the author of several recent books on social media, points out that the explosion of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and online forums in the last years has made big advertising campaigns decreasingly effective. A new product or service has to be of real value in order to be spread virally through social media buzz. You can't fake it anymore. The collapse of Enron, AIG, Lehman Brothers and countless politicians was not only about financial, political or sexual malpractice. It was about the cover-up. We are, all of us, tolerating lying and withholding less every day.

Getting real is becoming hip.

I've noticed that we have a choice, you and I, about how to participate in this shift in the collective. We all have accumulated secrets and lies, the things that we haven't told the people close to us because we "don't want to hurt their feelings." And we've all paid the price. We all have our personal Julian Assange, as a family member, friend, employee or client who will, eventually, blow the whistle on us when our time is up. So why not surf this wave of getting the skeletons out of the closet and start practicing radical honesty today?

What are the things you have said to John about Mary but forgot to tell Mary directly? What are the relevant facts in your intimate relationship that you have withheld? What are the resentments, as well as the appreciations, that you have not said?

We can all start riding this wave of full disclosure, authenticity and honesty today. It feels good.

Here's my suggestion: make a practice of telling one person something today, and then every day, that you have been withholding or lying about, and where you have hoped to avoid getting caught. Stay present in the room while they digest what you've said; don't practice drive-by honesty. Avoid entering into a discussion about it or explaining or justifying why it is so. Just 'fess up and feel your burden lifting.

Imagine what the world would be like if telling each other the truth became the accepted norm. What If diplomats came clean with leaders of other countries and confessed to them their withheld judgments, before needing Julian to help out? What if large corporations told you exactly what to expect from their products and encouraged public forums with customer reactions? What if politicians came clean about their weaknesses from the get-go so that we felt inspired to elect them for their courage to be authentic rather than the rhetoric of empty promises? What if religious leaders were as lyrical about their doubts as they are about their faith? And what if you and I and everyone we know put being real as a higher priority than looking good?

Now Julian Assange is wanted by Interpol for an alleged rape that took place in Sweden. The arrest warrant includes the request that he be sequestered without contact with an attorney, friends or relatives. Gimme a break, here! These charges had already been dismissed while he was still in Sweden, and he made himself fully available for an interview at that time. The two women involved had already agreed that it was consensual sex. You, I and everyone knows why Interpol has been instructed to lock him up in a prison cell without contact with the media. And you, I and everyone else knows why this suddenly seems so important when it didn't a few weeks ago.

On Friday Assange answered questions on The Guardian's website. One of the questions was what would happen if he gets "taken out." Assange answers, "The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the U.S. and other countries, to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organizations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you."

But it is not only these specific secret cables that are being unearthed here. It is a much more widespread atmosphere of deception that we have all participated in, one way or another. You can find it deeply ingrained in banking, politics, religion and at home in our own backyards. History can win at all of those levels, and the elevation of the world to a better place that Assange talks about has everything to do with you, me and everyone we know.

You can start to practice radical honesty today. It's fun, it's energizing, it's refreshing and it leaves you feeling more creative, more open and years younger.


Excited to to taste this for yourself? I am hosting a free tele-seminar about radical honesty today, Thursday, Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. PST (9 p.m. EST). You can register here. My special guest will be Brad Blanton, the author of "Radical Honesty" and several other books. Our awakening coaches are trained to lead a process we call "Dissolving Separation." It gives you a taste of radical honesty within yourself, before you start practicing with someone else. When you join the call, you can also set up a time for a free mini-session with one of them. Register here.