Radical Candour

And the terrifying alternative: Ruinous Empathy

The last 18 months have been a bit of a journey, to say the least.

This request stands. If you’re in a transition of any kind, no matter how trivial, let me know how it’s going.

People on Twitter responded with jokes about snacks, because I follow too many open mic comedians. But I think this message reached some people who needed it. And that’s the important thing.

As I moved out of my family home just over a year ago, I started working with a brilliant therapist. I committed to it, did my homework, and started a gratitude practice.

I didn’t think I really needed it. I was wrong.

My attitude to life back then was negative, self-limited and full of guilt and shame. I don’t know how noticeable this was. I certainly hadn’t noticed it. I just thought I had a hilarious dark streak and I could barely hear the negative self-talk that was burbling away in my head 24/7.

And to be fair, darkness is hilarious and a lot sexier than self-belief.

But the emotional underpinnings of my sense of humour were slowly and quietly dismantling my mental health.

My therapist suggested I write notes to myself and put them up around the house. I laughed. She didn’t.

I started writing notes to myself and put them up around the house. I felt stupid, but I also that I desperately wanted - needed - to change.

Slowly, s l o w l y, I started to feel better. These days, I talk to everyone I know about good mental health. I will never get bored of finding out what works for other people.

On Walk the Pod walking club community message board, the lovely Leaping Lord Stephen suggested a positive affirmations app called I am. I downloaded it immediately, intrigued.

I am started pinging positive affirmations to my phone, several times a day.

It told me I was brave, beautiful and fearless. It told me I was ‘worthy of love.’

I smiled at it, in a sort of, this is cute but pitiful way. It was like having a benevolent girlfriend who just wanted the best for me.

I am backs up the work that my therapist does every few weeks. She tells me she believes in me. She tells me I’m a good person. She explains, over and over again, that the reason I find the behaviour of other people annoying is not because I am evil, but because it pains me to see people demonstrating values that strongly misalign with mine. Wow.

I am starting to believe it.

I am starting to feel enough. Not one day, when I finish my to-do list, buy a flat or finish a project, but now. Every day. And I’m working hard to hold on to that feeling.

When I feel enough, I can enjoy the day. I can be present with the people I am with. No longer building castles in my head about the things I need to do to become enough, one day. I am already here, and so are you.

I’m trying to take the advice of my favourite modern philosopher Heather Havrilesky to stop building my glorious future and work on my imperfect present instead.

Radical Candour

Between September 2020 and April 2021, I worked for a lovely bunch of scientists at The Physiological Society. Their mission is to make physiology ‘flourish’ and I believe they will achieve it.

The contract was 8-months of maternity cover which was, because of Covid-19, entirely via Zoom. I met five or six of my colleagues in a pub once, but apart from that, I have no idea how tall any of these people are.

Alright, I know that they are taller than me.

Towards the end of this stint, a colleague was kind enough to tell me about a workshop she’d been to recently on ‘Radical Candour’ (my caps and UK spelling).

I found this immediately fascinating. What is Radical Candour?

But I wasn’t going to find out straight away. First, I was going to hear about the alternative to Radical Candour, Ruinous Empathy.

I was already OBSESSED with this. I opened my desk drawer, removed a small bag of popcorn and scooched my chair a little closer to the laptop.

“Tell me everything.”

The charity sector, she explained, is both a dream and a nightmare.

It’s full of people who deeply care about the world, all of the people in the world and all of the things they cannot do about all of the terrible things that happen in the world.

Charity people are full of love, empathy and compassion. They are, in short, absolute dreamboats.

The downside to absolute dreamboats is that they can be so NICE that they never tell the people who work for them what they could be doing better.

They are full of love, and they want to be loved too. This, she explained, can lead to Ruinous Empathy.

So, Ruinous Empathy doesn’t sound good. WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE, I wanted to know.

“Calm down,” she advised. “The answer is coming.”

The answer, as you will have worked out by now, is Radical Candour.

And it is this.

If we care personally about people, then we can also let them know how they can do better. Care Personally, Challenge Directly.

I love it. Some other ways of getting this slightly wrong are Obnoxious Aggression, which is where you don’t care and are just being a dick, and Manipulative Insincerity, which is praise that is non-specific and insincere, or criticism that is neither clear nor kind.

OK, but is there a podcast about this? Of course there is.

Grasping the infinite with the finite

This week, I’ve been pointing everyone in the direction of Breaking Breakfast, a brilliant reunion of the team behind the Chris Evans breakfast show in the ‘90s. If you enjoyed the show, you will love this podcast.

Chris was brilliant at grabbing pieces of conversation from the Zoo he created on-air, and crystallising them into ideas. He would hear his friends talking about cars and before you knew it, there was a Ginger Grand Prix happening on the Mall. He would paint scenes of happiness for listeners and capture the moment of the day. He was an absolute zany genius and a formative figure in my teenage years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grasping the infinite with the finite this week, which is my Dad’s phrase rather than mine. My Dad has been leaving me a podcast series via Whatsapp, so I often wake up to a new episode, in which he explains something incredibly complicated and philosophical to me, in easy terms.

Last night, I was listening to a fascinating conversation between Brene Brown and Jim Collins, in which Collins explained that once he has worked out a concept from the swirling chaos that is everything in the world, his job is then to make it into an easy to understand package, and then to gift wrap it for the person he’s talking to. And this often involves giving it a name, like ‘the Hedgehog’ in order to give the person an idea to unwrap at their leisure.

I really like this idea. Look out for more gift-wrapped ideas in the podcast in weeks to come!

📣 Community shoutouts!

💌 Thanks to Gaynor and Tati (and “Myfanwy”) for getting in touch, I look forward to walking with you IRL very soon.

💌 Thanks to Polly for the beautiful hollyhocks!

💌 Thanks to Captain Tim in Croydon for letting me know about the Lego dinosaurs in the Whitgift centre!

And finally…

…a word about the Walk the Pod walking club. I’ve created a community message board on Discord and you can join. On the message board, just like on the podcast, I have found a space to sound exactly like myself. And I encourage everyone to do the same.

The patrons who support the Walk the Pod project are over there discussing ways to have fun, ideas for wellness and mental health, and have a wonderful and hilarious obsession with ducks which came out of nowhere. Check out the walking club!

I’ve just kicked off Series 19 of Walk the Pod and if you haven’t listened for a while, or you haven’t heard the daily walking show recorded on my local cycle path, have a listen here. Please leave me a voice note if you have time. I would love to hear from you.

And remember, you can hit ‘reply’ on this email and let me know what you’re up to. It makes my day to hear from you.

Lots of love,

Rachel x