by Randy Murray on April 24, 2013

I am conflicted about openness.

I crave honesty and clarity. I insist on full disclosure in business dealings. I fight for the end of governmental secrecy. And yet, I’ve watched enough episodes of “Law & Order” to know that if a policeman shows up at your door and asks if he or she can come in you say, “not without a warrant and not without my lawyer present.”

What have I got to hide? Not a thing. But then again, it’s none of your damn business, is it? Openness sounds like a good and natural thing. Then why do I resist it so much?

I am a creature of the digital age and I love being able to stay in contact with people across the planet. I’ve reconnected with friends and family members through social media and I’ve strengthened other relationships. And I’ve made new friends that I highly value. All of this is made possible by this brave new world of connectedness.

Ray Charles sings, “If you don’t know me by now you will never ever ever know me.” As much as I love that song and Ray’s performance I’m afraid I must disagree.

No one fully knows me. Not my wife of 31 years, not my friends from childhood, and certainly not my parents, children, neighbors, and colleagues.

Not even me. All of these individuals know aspects of me and may have deep knowledge and understandings of those aspects, perhaps better than I know those things myself. But those aspects are by their very nature separate and separable. My business colleagues don’t need to know about my sexuality, my political and religious beliefs, and, for the most part, my personal life. My business life can be utterly boring to my friends and family, as well as my interests and movies, books, and art can be.

In fact, being overly open about any of those things can endanger those relationships. That’s one of the things that I find that one learns as one matures. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about you. In fact, it’s better if they don’t.

I do try to be open to my friends and family, but even they don’t want or need to know everything about me. Before this digital age I found that people held an image of individuals from the time period when they first and most frequently interacted with them. Someone who knew me in grade school or high school knows only an early version of myself. I’m far different now from the 1.0 edition.

Perhaps it’s a personal failing and a sign of self-centeredness, but I don’t spend much time thinking about the people that I went to high school with. When I meet someone from that era or get a request to link up on some social application I’m frequently uncomfortable. Why? Because in a very real sense these people are ghosts to me. They’re from a largely forgotten past. While there’s nothing particularly painful about those memories I just don’t dwell in any part of that past.

And there’s very little to gain by introducing them to everything that there’s to know about the current me, version 5.2 (5.3 is currently in beta testing).

I do not wear a mask. But I do not live in a glass house.

That’s what I’m trying to get at: there’s a difference between openness and transparency. Completely transparent people are frightening and uncomfortable to be around. Openness can be focused and segmented. I can be completely open with you about our dealings together and a complete mystery in other aspects of my life without you having to worry that I’m a serial killer.

I’m not. But I do know where some of the bodies are buried.

I want my government to be as transparent as possible. I want the same thing from corporations and organizations. I do not want or expect it from individuals. Hell, I understand why my daughters don’t like me posting on their Facebook pages. Our relationships as parent and child are very much different and separate from their relationships with their friends and colleagues. They really need to be separate.

I say that I have nothing to hide, but even that statement is a copout. Yes, I have things to hide, things that have absolutely no bearing on the relationships I have with other people. I can be friends, very good friends, with people who have starkly different religious beliefs from me because I keep my fracking mouth shut about what I think about those beliefs. We could be better friends if they’d keep things a little more closed off, too.

If I were forced to be completely open and everyone else were to do the same we’d all end up only being around people who were exactly like us. That would be unpleasant and uninteresting. Boring.

I see you. I do not need or want to see all of you.

And remember, what has been seen can not be unseen.

Let’s keep things separate, please. Let’s feel out the mysteries of life and choose what we reveal, to whom and when.

That’s much more interesting.

Originally published in the Read & Trust Newsletter.

The Openness by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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