Personal transparency is one of those things we hear a lot about these days. And while transparency is expected, it is not always respected. Most folks are both fascinated and intrigued by things that are transparent. The same goes for transparent people.
As you might imagine, I get lots of questions about transparency — as a minister, a counselor, and a writer. This post is a little longer than most because I wanted to cover the subject with some level of detail — and transparency!
Those of you who stop by to read my blog on a regular basis — and certainly those of you who know me well — understand that I’m a fairly transparent person. I don’t mind sharing my thoughts and feelings. I welcome civil discourse on most any topic. And I believe that sharing my own personal doubts and struggles provides an element of humanness to what could otherwise be just another ‘perfect person’ blog in cyberspace.
Now don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. There are people out there who are so sugary-sweet and sunshiny that if their house was burning down, they’d comment about how beautiful the flames were. They’re the ones you read who apparently have perfect jobs, perfect kids, a perfect spouse, and perfect relationships even with their in-laws.
If that’s the kind of thing you’re into, then go ahead and click away from here now. There’s nothing in my life that I consider to be perfect. God is still working on me — and apparently most of my friends, family, and acquaintances too. Now one could argue that I just need to make some new relationships. But I know that even the Lord Jesus Christ did not enjoy perfect relationships. Let’s see . . . Peter denied him . . . Judas betrayed him . . . the angry mob crucified him for crimes he did not commit. Yep, I’m pretty sure he struggled in that area too.
So on one end of the spectrum, we have those who apparently have perfect lives. On the other, we have those whose lives are in shambles, and they don’t mind sharing every last detail (because ‘inquiring minds want to know’ — or so we’ve been led to believe).
I would argue that neither extreme is really the most appropriate level of transparency for dealings with the general public.
Several basic beliefs undergird my philosphy regarding personal transparency:
- No one is 100% transparent.
- Transparency is both an indicator of relationship trust as well as a primary factor in establishing and maintaining that trust.
- Transparency can be an indicator of courage, self-confidence, or stupidity. It is also an indicator of emotional intelligence.
For all these reasons, I believe that transparency must be utilized with a measure of common sense. Accountability is vital for growth as a Christian, but I am not obligated to share with everyone on the planet every time I sin or am tempted to sin. Such a high level of transparency should be reserved for those people whom you trust — and who will use that information to pray for and encourage you in your walk with the Lord. Too many times we have seen people exploit or belittle another’s transparency, leaving that person feeling scorned, ridiculed, and emotionally raped.
Now I realize that given our society’s fascination with the internet and social networking, in particular, there is a reasonable expectation of transparency by those who are leaders. And I think many leaders do a decent job of balancing transparency with discretion.
Let me just say here that in spite of my transparent nature and my proclivity for online networking, you will not see me posting extremely sensitive personal information on Twitter. If I take a trip, I’ll mention it after the fact rather than risk someone taking advantage of my family and home when they read that I’m out of town. Likewise I am extremely protective of my family. I do not put photos of my wife and kids out there for public consumption.
And while I am much easier to find on Facebook now that the site has enabled vanity usernames, I do not let just anyone be my friend on Facebook either. Why? Because it’s my information and my prerogative. To illustrate my point, one of my Twitter followers just the other day posted a tweet that begged her followers to ‘friend’ her on Facebook so that she could have more friends than her 23-year-old daughter. For the love! It’s not a competition, people! And why would anyone want just any Tom, Dick, and Harry posing as friends anyway? It just reeked of desperation.
At this point in time, Twitter is the primary online resource I use to keep a gauge on what’s going on in the world. My updates are unprotected, meaning that anyone anywhere can read what I’ve written. And yes, that means that I must think two or three times before I post something, lest it be misinterpreted or taken out of context.
Facebook, on the other hand, is the online resource I use to share information about my life — including family photos — with those people I know and trust. This group is generally limited to my friends, family, and church family. So if you read my blog or follow me on Twitter, that does not entitle you to also be my friend on Facebook. Call me crazy, if you will, but there is just too much risk in expanding one’s personal network to those who haven’t somehow earned the right to be included in it.
Here are my five principles to guide transparency:
- Recognize that transparency is vital for building relationships. It’s one of the key qualities that makes a person authentic and human.
- Reserve the highest level of transparency for those you know and trust. This is the kind of transparency that is necessary for relationships with close family, friends, and accountability partners. There are just some things you don’t want the whole world to know.
- Always think about the potential risks of sharing personal thoughts and information. Remember that not everyone has your best interest at heart. Some would love to see you fail.
- Always think about the potential risks of NOT sharing personal thoughts and information. Generally speaking, if a person has been transparent with you (and appears to be also exercising appopriateness in disclosure), then you should make an effort to match that level of transparency. Failure to be transparent with those who have trusted you will likely leave the other person feeling frustrated and untrusted.
- When in doubt, don’t! Learn to trust your instincts when it comes to sharing with people, particularly online or in writing. Things have a way of biting you on the rear end when you least expect it!
In a world where the lines between personal and professional are increasingly blurry, I hope these principles will help you build healthy relationships. Just remember to balance your level of transparency with common sense! And never assume that just because someone wants you to trust them that they are, in fact, trustworthy.
What do you think? I always love hearing from my readers.