Why You Won’t Find My Goals Online
How much of ourselves should we reveal online? It’s a challenging question and the answers are not as obvious as they first seem.
Last week two blogposts challenged me to think about my online persona. First, Jason Clark posted about making public his personal goals. I’m impressed by Jason’s skill and courage in clearly articulating some challenging personal ambitions making himself publicly accountable to them. My own tendency is to speak less about my personal (and “professional”) aspirations. Partly because my weakness is being a “promise more than I deliver” sort of guy. But, mostly because my life has taken so many twists and turns. In recent years that it’s hard to know which of my dreams are realistic and what obstacles may get in the way. It feels odd to aim at targets that might take five to ten years to hit. I don’t know what continent I’ll be living on in ten years (or how many times I’ll move in the interim).
The other challenging post was John Smulo’s reflection on the struggles he has faced in the last year. He raised some thoughtful questions about how transparent we are. John asked if it’s inevitable that we’ll wear social masks. online and in contexts like churches (I contributed a lengthy comment to that discussion).
The juxtaposition of those two formidable posts is both taxing and illuminating, because considering John’s questions pushes me to reconsider my reticence to follow Jason’s example.
Goals, Masks, and Transparency
In his post, John contrasts “masks” and “transparency.” Personally, I’m not convinced we should ever wear masks, online, in our work, or relationships. To me, masks are a sign of dishonesty; pretending to be something we are not. Online it’s easy to become our avatar (which is surely the post-modern equivalent of believing our own hype). Especially if we only focus on our achievements and successes. Showing only our best side can create a false impression of who we are. I don’t know if we call that a “mask” or not, but I’m going Sisella Bok’s definitions and calling that a lie. I am my doubts, fears and uncertainties as much as I am my accolades, convictions, and successes.
Transparency seems a far more honest and attractive option, but carries with it some real practical complications. Not least of which, for me, is the question of time and interest. How much time does it take to put “all” of my life online and who, in all honesty, is interested in that much detail? If I don’t get on and live life, then what sort of a life will I have to put online?
For me, as a blogger, this is fundamental – Who reads this blog? Why? What do they want from it?
Moreover, life teaches us that even our best friends are only interested in a few aspects of our lives. I have friends who love to talk about sport and politics but won’t go near “religion.” Others who only want to talk about issues of faith. Some friends love golf. Others hate it. Amazingly I even have friends who are not into modern art or football! What does transparency mean when we admit our interest in each other is only partial?
Authenticity and Honesty
That’s why authenticity and honesty are so important. How does this incomplete picture relate to the complete me? Is total transparency the goal? Is it enough to seek to be honest about who we are? Can we trust that the “truth” of us is evident in the composite of our interactions and relationships? Are we the sum of our social parts?
I believe authenticity does the work transparency never could.
Which brings me back to putting my ambitions online. The fact that I can’t bring myself to write a set of targets like Jason’s reflects my life is right now. If anything, it would be disingenuous to do so. But, there is no reason why I can’t make public some intermediate goals, the things are currently on my project lists. In showing you what I am focussed on right now I’m giving you as much insight into my future as I honesty have myself.