Gary Walter asks about self censorship — do we trade off authenticity for safety?
I gave my opinion in his comments, but because it ended up being so long, I’m reposting here (with minor modifications):
Gary, we all self-censor. People ask us for an opinion about clothing or hair style and want affirmation. They don’t want to hear that it makes them look fat or old. So we don’t tell them. We say it makes them great or young or vibrant or whatever. We’re protecting their feelings and letting them know they’re loved.
Other times we self-censor because we don’t want to admit that we’re not perfect, that we’re still figuring things out, or that we hold opinions or do things that others might consider unacceptable. This self-censorship is not about protecting others, it’s about protecting ourselves. It’s more insidious because we still justify that we’re protecting others from the conflict that might occur. But we’re just fooling ourselves.
Does that make it wrong to self-censor? I don’t think so. I don’t have to bare every thought or impulse or action just because I have a blog and a twitter account. Part of this journey we call life is learning how and when to disclose to others, who we can and should trust.
I’m not “authentic” enough to tweet that my wife and I had a fight on the way to church and then paste on smiles to shake hands and say “fine” when asked how I am. Maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with church. We need to be more open and honest about our true condition. Yet it’s hard. Those who volunteer at church, even playing the piano, are expected to meet certain standards (at least in some eyes) and is authenticity really the battle we want to fight? I’m not there yet and may never be. I rationalize that this problem is as much with the church as with myself, but am only half convinced.
With social networking, authenticity is even more difficult, or maybe it’s easier. Most of us have never met you, yet feel like we know you from your blog posts and tweets. We come to this relationship with no expectations other than that you entertain us or make us think once in a while. It’s working.
It’s when the “in real life” and “virtual” lives cross paths that difficulties arise. Those in real life don’t understand how or why we bare our lives online. It rocks their paradigm in ways they don’t understand. How dare you admit that or hang out with those people or do that?
It’s a personal decision. What do you get from online sharing? Is it a self-discovery process that could just as well be done with a private diary? Is it an ego trip where you fool yourself into thinking that the world is interested when you get your drink and piece of free fruit from the cafeteria? Or is it a way of making friends in a new world and you’d no more censor yourself with us than you would with your friends in real life? After all, why would we be authentic with you if you’re not willing to do so with us?
Maybe the real question is why would you be willing to share something online that you wouldn’t share in person?
Questions only you can answer. Good luck! And I’m looking forward to reading your answers online. ;-)
What do you think? What are you not willing to share online and why not?
Update. Check out the comments on Gary’s post. Gary responds to my comment and at least a couple others.