(Note: when I say “privacy” here, I’m not talking about the freedom from government monitoring of our communications — I’m talking about the idea that we shouldn’t tell others about certain aspects of our lives because they’re “private.”)
I have mixed feelings about the idea of “keeping things private.” When I used to tell people I wouldn’t reveal something about myself because it was “private,” I’d be basically saying that, because I can’t handle the discomfort of people finding out the truth, I’m going to hide behind a fictitious “rule” that it’s “wrong” for people to know that information. I don’t do that so much anymore.
In the same vein, when my friends post something about themselves on Facebook or some other social media platform and tell me not to share it, I comply, but I often find myself wondering what the big deal is. Is there really some fact about you that’s so terrible that, if the world found out about it, no one would want to be with you, and you’d find yourself completely alone? Or is that just an irrational fear?
What If There Were No Secrets?
Sometimes I wonder whether, if we lived in a world where our “darkest secrets” were plain for everyone to see, we’d feel more connected to and compassionate toward each other. If you could always see the truth about me, and I was forced to drop the absurd façade of perfection and “professionalism” I hold up at times, maybe you’d feel a deeper sense of shared humanity with me, rather than feeling contempt, distrust or envy toward me.
On the other hand, I understand that we live in a world where people have been trained, from birth, to loathe parts of themselves, and to loathe the same qualities in other people. If I’ve been conditioned to see the fearful part of myself as disgusting, and you reveal to me that you’re afraid, I’ll probably feel disgust for you, not compassion. If you learned as a kid that “people who play music are flaky,” you’re going to see me as a Grade-A Kellogg’s Cornflake. And so on.
So, I suppose, it’s not as if keeping aspects of our lives “secret” or “private” is totally useless. By doing that, we avoid the risk that others, when we reveal some part of ourselves, will hate what they see — just as they’ve been taught to hate the same part of themselves.
And, of course, there probably are some employers out there who would prefer that their employees project a certain image to the world, both on the job and off. An employer like that may be upset with a worker who reveals some part of himself or herself to the world that the employer is uncomfortable with. (My approach to dealing with that kind of company would be simply not to work for it, although I understand that some people might not see that option as realistic.)
Privacy and “Finding Your Tribe”
A key question, I think, is how seriously we choose to take the threat that other people will see aspects of who we are as disgusting or otherwise bad, and abandon or hurt us.
Maybe there are people who would decide, if we opened up about ourselves, that the discomfort they feel in the presence of our truth is too much for them to bear. But perhaps those people just aren’t meant to be part of our “tribe,” and by concealing who we are from them in order to keep them around, we’re actually doing both ourselves and them a disservice.
So, I’m not 100% sold on the concept of “keeping things private,” although I can sympathize with people who worry that revealing “too much information” will threaten their survival.
What do you think about the whole idea of keeping parts of ourselves “private”? Do you see any downside to it?
I usually don’t feel drawn to doing “list posts.” Some of this is because of my unease about doing something “everyone else” seems to be doing.
So, as a personal growth exercise, I’m going to jump right in and do a list post! I also think this is a pretty cool and valuable list of questions for building awareness about how we limit ourselves with our ways of thinking and being.
Without further ado, here are some questions I’ve gained a lot from asking myself. Some of them may be uncomfortable to think about, but I think that kind of discomfort is usually a sign of growth:
1. What quality in other people irritates you most? (For example, is it ambition, shyness, laziness, or something else?) How do you have this quality in the way you live your own life?
2. What quality in other people do you envy the most? How do you already have this quality in the way you live your own life?
3. What emotion do you least want to feel? Is it fear, anger, sadness, or something else? What do you do in your life to avoid feeling it?
4. What do you most want people to think about you? What do you do in your life to make sure others think that? What is that costing you?
5. What do you least want people to think about you? What do you do in your life to make sure others don’t think that? What is that costing you?
6. What have you done that you least want people to know about? What do you do in your life to make sure no one finds out about what you did?
7. What have you done that you most want people to know about? How do you go out of your way to make sure people know you did it?
8. If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the only reason you’re alive is to enjoy every moment, would you change the way you live? How?
9. If you knew that, no matter what you did or didn’t do, you would love and respect yourself, how would you live your life?
10. What would you create if you knew no one would ever see it? In other words, if you were 100% certain that your work would never make you famous or rich, and the only thing you’d ever get out of it was personal satisfaction, what would you choose to do?
11. Here’s another interesting way to put Question # 10: How would you live if you knew that no one would ever approve of you? If you knew that nobody would ever be happy with the way you live, and that you might as well do whatever fulfills you, what would you do?
12. How are you trying to please your parents with the way you live? What is that costing you?
13. If you knew that you were 100% forgiven for everything you think you’ve done wrong, how would that change the way you live?
14. If you cried in front of a stranger, how would they react? (Take the first answer that comes to mind.)
15. If you got angry at a stranger, how would they react? (Same rule as Question # 14.)
16. In what situations do you try to look happy when you really aren’t?
17. In what situations do you hold back from speaking the truth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?
18. If you’re a man, how do you think a man is supposed to act? How do you make an effort to act that way?
19. If you’re a woman, how do you think a woman is supposed to act? How do you make an effort to act that way?
20. How is the “public you” different from the “private you”?
Whew! And we’re done. It was an intense experience for me writing and thinking about those questions — I’m curious what it was like for you to read them. You don’t have to share your answers to the specific questions, but if you want to that’s great too. Thanks!
In other news: I did an interview with Evita Ochel of EvolvingBeings.com on meditation, how to do it and the benefits it can bring. I hope you enjoy it.
Well, as advertisers are helpfully reminding us, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. For me, as for many other people, this can be a time of irritation.
This isn’t because I’m what our culture calls a “single guy.” I enjoy that, actually. It’s because this is the time of year when I get to hear people lament how long it’s been since they’ve been “in a relationship,” or since they’ve done whatever other romantic thing they think they should be doing.
One Person’s Romantic Comedy Is Another’s Horror Movie
The most frustrating part, when I listen to these people, is that they don’t seem to be paying attention to what they actually want. Instead, they’re measuring themselves against what they see as the culture’s expectations, and blaming themselves for falling short.
“My friends are all married,” I hear (and I’m sure you’ve heard) people complain. When I hear this from someone, I try to respond compassionately. But I have to admit, sometimes I just want to caustically remark: “that makes perfect sense — after all, the rule is that you have to do whatever your friends do!”
And, of course, there are people (mostly men, but not exclusively) who will be able to tell me, to the month, day and hour, how long it’s been since they “got laid.” Hearing this, it’s all I can do to keep my inner Captain Sarcastic from spitting out: “true, if you don’t ‘get some’ soon, you’ll lose your place at the ‘jock’ table in the high school cafeteria!”
The saddest part of this, in my experience, is that many people stay dissatisfied even if they do find what they say they’re looking for. Trying to live into somebody else’s vision of how romance or intimacy should be, I think, is a recipe for suffering.
What Do You Really Want?
If someone is griping to me about their “singlehood” (at least, I think that’s the right word), and they’re really willing to explore the issue, what we’ll often discover is that they don’t even want to be married, “in a relationship,” or whatever else, right now. They are hurting because they’re telling themselves it’s wrong not to want those things, and beating themselves up.
In my experience, when people become willing to admit that lack of desire, often it’s as if a weight lifts from their shoulders, and their bodies feel lighter. What’s more, amazingly enough, sometimes acknowledging they don’t want intimacy actually opens the way for them to want it again.
Why? I think it goes back to what I talked about in my post on “finding compassion through selfishness.” We’re all made up of a bunch of different parts, or, as some put it, “selves” or “energies” — the aggressive part, the solitary part, the outgoing part, and so on.
Calling Out Our Doubts
As I put it earlier, the way I see it, each person is like a prism — something that breaks up a beam of light into the colors of the rainbow. Sometimes, we don’t like one of the colors — the anger, the hurt, or something else — and so we cover up the prism. The trouble is, when we do that, no light can get through.
We all, I think, have a part that wants connection with others. But we also have parts that are cautious, hurt, untrusting, and so on. When we tell ourselves it’s not okay to feel afraid or unready about intimacy, and we push the hesitant parts of ourselves down, we can cause ourselves a lot of pain.
I’ve found, both in myself and in talking to people, that it can be so liberating when we acknowledge the areas where we’re uncertain, and it can actually help create the connection with others that we’re looking for.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t care about you. It’s not here to solve your problems, lend you an ear, or serve you in any other way. It looks out for me and me alone.
Isn’t that a terrible thing? Actually, I don’t think so. In fact, I think acknowledging I have a “selfish” part — and, sometimes, doing what that part wants — is key to experiencing, and expressing, real compassion for people.
I Used To Be Such A Sweet, Sweet Thing
I used to act really nurturing and giving, all the time. Whenever someone had a request or a problem, I was the first to volunteer my time and energy. I can practically hear Alice Cooper now: “I opened doors for little old ladies,” and so on.
But I eventually had a couple of disturbing realizations. The first was that I expected praise for service I did, and felt upset when I didn’t get it. Why would I care about receiving praise, I wondered, if I genuinely liked helping others?
Second, if someone — heaven forbid — criticized me in a way that suggested I was selfish, I got even angrier. I couldn’t help but ask: if I’m really such a 24-7 generous guy, why does it bother me when someone says I’m not?
Acting Caring Vs. Being Caring
Finally, it dawned on me that, at least sometimes, I wasn’t helping people because I enjoyed service. Instead, I was doing it because I wanted to show people I wasn’t self-centered. In other words, I did it because I didn’t want to experience the shame I felt when someone called me selfish.
I started wondering: what if, on some level, I actually am selfish? What would happen if I learned that there is, in fact, a part of me that thinks only of my wants? Would I explode, implode, or be annihilated in some other messy way? Probably not.
I noticed my body relaxed, and I sighed with relief, when I asked questions like these. It was as if, to put on a benevolent mask for the world, I had to tighten some part of my body, and use up energy keeping that part tense. Dropping the mask freed up that energy, and was a big relief.
I also saw that, the more relaxed I felt, the more I experienced real gratitude. Life, I found, is more fun when I’m not trying to appease someone or protect myself from criticism. From that genuinely grateful place, compassion for others comes more naturally.
In other words, interestingly enough, admitting there’s a part of me that doesn’t care actually releases and nourishes the part that does.
Everybody Is Everything
Why? I think about it this way: each person is like a prism – an object that breaks up a beam of light into the colors of the rainbow. The colors represent every human character trait: compassion, selfishness, love, anger, sadness, and so on.
Often, we decide we don’t like one of the colors — perhaps we’d rather not be blue (sad), red (angry), or something else. So, we cover up the prism to keep others from seeing that color. The trouble is that, when we block the prism, none of the colors can be seen — no part of us can be fully expressed in the world.
When I try to hide my “self-centered” part, it’s like I’m covering up my prism — “hiding my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes. The result is that I can’t really bring my generous part into the world either. If I want my compassion to fully show up, I need to let my selfishness make an appearance too.
With That, Some Gratitude
I want to thank two generous and, undoubtedly, totally unselfish souls for the gifts they gave me. :) Evita Ochel and Patricia Hamilton recently wrote warm and wonderful reviews of my audio course. I hope you’ll check out their sites and enjoy what they bring to the world.
I’ve just published a guest post at The Change Blog called “Productivity and Owning Our Shadow.” It’s about how we’ll often put off working on a project when making progress requires us to tap into part of ourselves we aren’t fully okay with — maybe the part that’s ambitious, sentimental, childlike, or something else.
I sometimes notice this in myself when I’m writing fiction, which I’ve been trying my hand at lately. For some time, I had trouble making progress on writing a scene where one character is darkly, primally angry — because, of course, writing it brought up the part of me that can feel that way.
But as I wrote the scene, I got this interesting sense that I was making peace with that part, and integrating it more deeply into who I am, instead of treating it as a weird, dangerous outsider.
Anyway, enjoy the piece!
I think we’d all like to believe that we don’t care whether anyone pays attention to us. We’re heroically forging our own path, and if other people don’t care about what we’re doing or think it’s important, that’s just their loss. But if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’ll see that the reality is a little different.
If you’re a blogger, for example, can you truthfully say you don’t care whether anyone reads what you write? If it didn’t matter whether anyone read your writing, why would you bother blogging at all? Just to organize your thoughts? Sorry, but I don’t buy it.
Uh oh, now we’re treading into dangerous territory, aren’t we? If you admitted you wanted attention from others, wouldn’t that make you a narcissist? A people-pleaser? A needy child in a grownup’s body? There’s nothing good about that, is there?
The Gift of Narcissism
Or is there? Do you suppose Michelangelo would have spent four years painting the Sistine Chapel if he didn’t care whether anyone saw it? That Shakespeare would have written all those plays if he didn’t care whether anyone read them? That Michael Jackson would have recorded Thriller if it didn’t matter whether anyone heard it?
My point is that the human desire for attention has gifted us with a massive amount of brilliant creative output. If people didn’t care about being noticed by others, the world would be far poorer for it.
And, yes, that same desire has probably produced some horrors in human history. I’ll grant you that, if Hitler didn’t care about getting attention, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to become chancellor of Germany. Maybe he would have stayed an unappreciated artist.
But all this means is that our desire for attention, like any other human quality, has light and dark sides. It isn’t inherently good or bad. If we consciously harness it, it can help us do incredible things for the world.
Letting Go Of Denial
I think it’s a shame, then, that we often hate and deny our desire for attention. Instead of acknowledging it in ourselves, we project it onto others. “They’re the narcissists and people-pleasers,” we tell ourselves. “I’m just doing my own thing.” Or maybe we see it in ourselves, but do our best to keep it hidden.
What if, instead of hating it, we accepted — and maybe even appreciated — this part of ourselves? What if we recognized that, without it, we’d be less able to give our gifts to the world?
I know, the ideal in personal growth is for your work to be an expression of your wholeness, rather than an attempt to become whole. But there’s a reason we call that an ideal. It’s something we aspire to, but we don’t usually achieve 100% in practice.
It may sound like a paradox, and in a sense it is, but if you want to be fully okay with yourself, I think you need to accept the part of yourself that doesn’t feel okay unless it’s getting attention. You can’t have unconditional self-love without loving all of your parts, imperfect as they may seem.
Oh, and thanks for paying attention to me and reading this.