As I discussed in yesterday’s post, transparency is tricky. While it is often demanded, particularly in the church, there is little in the way of support for those who are transparent. Transparency often means that truth results in consequences, and those consequences are often not good.
Still, we need to keep trying to be transparent, even as we evaluate how we ought to go about self-disclosure. Here are some ideas on how to accomplish appropriate transparency:
1. Consider the Scope of Your Transparency
My mother once gave me some very wise advice. She told me that if I was ever in a social situation and I belched (or worse), that I should say “excuse me”, but only as loud as the belch itself. In other words, be polite to those who heard you, but don’t announce the event to those who weren’t even aware of it.
We need to make sure that our transparency is appropriate: Broadcasting a personal failing that only affected a few people is not only unnecessary, but it can also be a twisted form of self-aggrandizement.
2. Consider that Once the News is “Out” People Likely Won’t Care About it After a Few Months (or Even Weeks!)
When I was 18 (and quite unmarried) I got pregnant and decided to carry the pregnancy to term. When my best attempts to keep my condition failed, I was constantly worried that people were always “talking about me”. While I know that my family and social network likely engaged in an initial flurry of gleeful gossip, that all died down rather quickly.
(In fact, I was told point-blank by my parents and some older friends that I was NOT a topic of conversation, or was I at the forefront of everyone’s mind!)
Because humans are mostly self-centered, we are convinced that everyone is always thinking about us, for good or for bad. But the truth is that most people are far more concerned about themselves than they are other people. We need to keep perspective about transparency: Yes, we risk being gossiped about and ostracized (in some cases), but a new “flavor of the week” is just around the corner. Trust me.
3. Being Transparent is not Equivalent to Putting on a “Kick-Me” Sign (i.e. You aren’t obligated to take abuse.)
Being transparent is just that: Letting other people know about the challenges, struggles, and yes, the good things in your life. When we are transparent about difficulties (or even outright screw-ups), we are doing so in order to be honest and to prevent more misunderstandings and misdeeds from occurring. We are asking for help and support from others in our struggles. What we are not asking for (nor do we deserve) is “punishment” in the form of ongoing admonitions, nasty remarks, and inappropriate intrusions into our personal lives.
For Christians, being transparent ought to be the fruit of grace, rather than the means by which we try to achieve it. When we are transparent, need to remember that while we may still be working through our guilt, nobody ought to be adding to it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you “deserve” the condemnation and abuse of a busybody just because you did something wrong.
4. Giving an Accounting: To Whom are You Accountable?
This is a sticky concept, but I am going to give it a whirl. I think that sometimes we overestimate just who we are accountable to. Public figures have an even more difficult time with this, because they have such a large sphere of influence.
But I think it is an important question to consider when we are talking about transparency. Do we really owe someone who reads our blog occasionally the same level of transparency that we offer our spouse? Our children? Our pastor? Our employees?
Determining accountability is a crucial step in appropriate transparency. It is also probably best addressed in another blog post.
5. Being Transparent When You Can’t Be
There are times when “being transparent” steps on the toes of others. If our being transparent is going to incriminate or endanger another person, is against the advice of an attorney (i.e. a legal case is pending), or is going to cause humiliation for innocent/not-so-innocent bystanders, we need to shut up, step back, and think about how we are going to deal with the situation.
One way of coping with a situation like this is to consider point #4 and figure out who we are accountable to. If we are able to be transparent with our “inner ring” of accountability, we not only are able to get the support that we need, but we have demonstrated, against any future insinuation, that we were appropriately accountable and transparent.
The other option, which I am not a fan of because it can cause more problems than it solves, is to be partially transparent: You can tell people that there is an issue, and that you have been taking steps to deal with it but that you are unable to reveal what it is. The trouble is that this approach will get people curious, gossiping, and perhaps some in the “investigative path”. On the other hand, it may be an option under circumstances where you believe that the “truth will come out” eventually, and you want to prepare people for the eventual revelations.
For Tomorrow: How We Can Support Transparency