Authenticity vs. Transparency – If I’m real, will anyone like me?

This is a poor man’s attempt to deal with a weighty subject that has been put through the wringer in great discussions at Amber Naslund’s excellent blog as well as, today, by David Spinks.  Among, doubtless, many others.

Those of you that read regularly know that I get criticized here.  You probably suspect, if you follow the comments section, that I allow pretty much any comment, no matter how critical.  And you would be right.  I have gotten heat for it from “professionals” that have told me that my blog should be relentlessly positive and cheerful if it’s to be a good marketing vehicle, and for all I know, they’re right.  But I can’t be that way.  I am a positive person, and I have faith that things are going to be okay.  But when I’m sad, I’m sad.  When I screw up, and someone calls me on it, I put that out there with everything else.

Maybe this makes me some sort of hero.  I doubt it.  That’s certainly not the intent.

I tend to be motivated by connection and community, and I believe that those connections cannot come about except in the presence of authenticity.  If I am not willing to be who I really am, then my connections will be false.  This is as true on Twitter as it is at the corner bookstore.  I don’t want people to think that I am perfect.  But, no, that’s not quite right.

I don’t want to present a false image of myself in order to get people to think I am one thing or another.  That’s better.  What they do think of me I want to be their decision based on real things, not my attempt to appear to be something.  This holds, I believe, for my company as well as myself.

In order to do this correctly, there are things I cannot present.  I have strong views on Coke.  I have opinions on the Red Wings.  I occasionally get red-faced discussing Hungarian domestic policy.  Some of those things are not good things to display to the general public, for a number of reasons, but mostly, I think, because that’s not a level of transparency I grant to everyone.  I restrict some things.  We all do.  This can be just fine – depending.

Depends on why.

If you restrict the fact that you’ve had an affair with your married staffer, John Ensign, because it harms your position as a vocal proponent of marital fidelity, then that is pretty much lying.  That’s inauthentic.  You are pretending to be something you’re not.  If you restrict the fact that you think abortion is murder, for another example, but you do so because you know that this is a debate that cannot be had without a level of trust among the debaters, this is not inauthenticity, it is opacity.  Opacity is not necessarily inauthentic.

For me, it’s like this – if you’re trying to be as real as possible within the bounds of what discussion you’re having, then you’re fine.  If you’re covering things up because they undermine your position, then you’re not fine.  In one binary check: is it about you, or about the community?

Authentic is about the community.  In fact, community can only exist among those that are authentic with one another.  A certain level of transparency is required as well, of course, and the more transparent the members of a community are, the deeper and more powerful will be the connections in that community.  But true transparency isn’t required for community formation.  If it were, we would all live in glass houses.  That part of the house that is glass, though, needs to be pretty clean, or the distorted view will eventually break the community apart.

P.S. This means you, buttkissers.  Authenticity doesn’t mean constant sunshine.  It does mean a willingness to tell the truth even when that truth will be hard for someone you care about to hear it.  You can be eccentric, even abrasive, and still be a part of a vibrant community as long as the eccentricity and abrasiveness is authentic – really a part of you – rather than just an attempt to get attention.  We’re not stupid.  We’ll be able to tell.

8 Responses to “Authenticity vs. Transparency – If I’m real, will anyone like me?”

  • I’m not going to lie to you, (especially not after that post) I’m pretty much stuck at the adulterer who’s a vocal proponent of fidelity in marriage. (Although I am unspeakably saddened at that thought that fidelity in marriage needs a vocal proponent.)

    But I wonder then what your solution to him is? He believed something, he fell short, and while I’ve certainly never done that *snort* I know some people who have and I wonder if you believe that their falling short means that they should abandon their position? I know that you don’t.

    I don’t know, or even rally know of, John Ensign so I’m not really in a position to comment on his situation (although ignorance has never really stopped me before so I’m not sure why I should let it do so now) but it would seem to me that the loss of a career over a mistake that he regrets would be pretty hard to bear. Of course that’s assuming that he regrets it and that he does still believe in the principle of faithful marriage.

    Basically I think if he’s lying about his beliefs (which is possible given his actions) that’s a lie. If he’s withholding information in deference to his wife, children, the woman with whom he cheated, her family or even himself then I think I’ll allow it. And if he’s not telling solely in order to strengthen his position, I think he’s missed the boat, I think “I believe in complete fidelity in marriage is essential all the more since I did (or nearly did) destroy my own through infidelity.” is an awfully strong position.

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