. . .or What’s the Point of Transparency if you Have To Lie Anyway?
Seems that a lot of folks like to talk about transparency. A lot. We also add a whole bunch of stuff about “accountability”, and run various workshops and sell books on how to achieve both in our lives and relationships. Which is all well and good until. . .
. . . we actually engage in a behavior or are involved in a situation that we are supposed to be transparent about.
This is where the trouble(s) start, because, as we all know, transparency means vulnerability. When we make ourselves vulnerable, there are those who will take advantage of that vulnerability to either do us harm or to benefit themselves in some way. Sometimes they will do both. Then, in addition to our personal struggle, we have to deal with the fallout of our transparency, which in some cases can actually be worse than the initial “issue” that we were transparent about.
While I believe in transparency (and I am going to explore it in some upcoming posts), I also think that it has become a buzzword with little real meaning. While it sounds virtuous, also brings with it some real problems which, if not considered along with the decision to “be transparent”, can have devastating effects on ourselves and others.
Here are a few of the problems with being transparent:
1. We run the risk of feeding rumors, gossip, and innuendo:
Unfortunately, even the most carefully worded explanation, confession, story, or report can and will be misunderstood by some people. As the information spreads via word-of-mouth, the truth can get more distorted until our transparency is twisted into lies.
2. Being completely transparent is not always wise or even ethical:
There are certain situations in which being transparent, at least for the time being, just isn’t possible. For example, someone might be involved in a legal proceeding of which they have been told to NOT reveal details to others (particularly online/in print).
There are also situations in which being transparent might adversely affect or embarrass someone else. Honorable people will often endure suspicion and scrutiny in order to not expose the failings of someone else.
3. Being transparent can mean jeopardizing one’s ministry, financial support, job, and/or friendships:
In some segments of the church, admitting to a failing may be applauded, but it will also lose you your job and friendships. Some churches will, for example, remove someone from leadership if they are having family or marital difficulties, offering no provision for the financial needs of that person or their family. In some cases, these ex-leaders will also find that their friends have disappeared along with their source of income.
It ends up becoming a Catch-22: A person trying to serve the church is supposed to take transparency and accountability seriously, but if they make themselves transparent and accountable, even about things that are largely out of their control, they can lose their ministry anyway.
4. We make ourselves vulnerable to emotional abuse:
When people are hurting, they don’t need people who neither know nor care about them making judgments, assumptions, and accusations against them. While it is easy to say that we shouldn’t care about what others say about us, the truth is that most of us can’t shake off personal attacks. Being transparent when times are tough can, in some cases, actually slow our healing.
5. Transparency, particularly online and/or in the media, is often done in sound bytes:
Most “situations” that people get themselves into don’t arise in a vacuum: People don’t always behave badly, because they are malicious or indifferent. There is almost always a fairly significant history, along with mitigating factors, behind the “story”, and this is poorly communicated in sound byte transparency. Thus people may become aware of a situation, but have no knowledge as to how that situation came about. Judgment is often much easier than understanding.
For Tomorrow: Five Considerations for Responsible Transparency