Image management has become a much more delicate matter in the internet age. If one wants to look like a good person in this world, there have been traditionally two ways of doing this. The first, and most difficult, is being a virtuous person on a regular basis, but a lot of people dislike this because they do not find it to be very much fun. So most people throughout history have chosen compartmentalization, where they are good some of the time in some locations, and have their fun elsewhere, and keep those different parts of their lives separated so that their work and play do not cross except with like-minded people who can be counted upon to keep up the facade of virtue.
This strategy is becoming more dangerous, though, in the age of social media. One wrong tag or foresquare entry or twitter feed entry and a reputation for morality can come crashing down. It does not even have to be your own doing, but anyone else who is there who keeps a record of actions for posterity, with photos or videos. Our ATM entries and cell phones are tracked, and most people are pretty easy to locate throughout the world if someone wants to find them. The fact that so many of us are so open about our affairs anyway makes it irrelevant for others to track us. Those who have nothing to hide hide nothing, after all.
Unfortunately, most of us probably have more to hide than we act like. I know I myself wrestle with the competing demands of discretion and tact and respect for the privacy of others as well as my own compulsive need to wrestle with my thoughts and feelings externally, which forces me either to find friends to confide in (which are in short supply) or to write reflective posts that are available to people in most countries around the world (so far I only know of two countries that have blocked my website so far, China and Iran). What this means is that what ought to be the private reflections of my heart become part of the public domain.
I don’t feel entirely comfortable about this, but I would rather deal with the repercussions of being open and honest, knowing that I am a person of honor myself, than I would trying to keep everything trapped inside of me. This is a painful dilemma to have, but I am far from alone in it, as Anna Nalick sang of the same thing in her hit single “Breathe (2 AM),” when she sang: “2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song. /
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, / Threatening the life it belongs to. / And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd / Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud, / And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to .” Many writers face this precise dilemma–holding in their thoughts in and threatening their health and sanity or letting it out and facing the scrutiny and repercussions that follow. Often there are no good solutions, only the lesser of the evils.
I was somewhat young when I made the choice for openness rather than secrecy. At the rather tender age of fourteen I was filled with the irrepressible compulsion to write a diary, poetry, and plays that were filled with my longings, my fears, my reflections. Over the painful years that have followed I have honed my craft after thousands upon thousands of hours of writing. I have seen wicked and evil people take my words and twist them, had people I thought were my friends tell secrets I had trusted them with to the whole world, and though I am hopefully wiser today than I was then, the same longings and the same larger issues motivate me. Perhaps the context is larger now than it was back then, but the issues are the same basic few concerns, all of which are interconnected. And still I spill out ink like blood, pouring out my heart and mind to a candid world who I know will use my words exactly how they want to for their own agendas. If I have chosen that option, it is not because I am shamelessly self-absorbed, but because that is the best option I have in wrestling with what is inside my heart and mind. If I don’t get it out, it will threaten the life it belongs to.
The words we say, and the words we do not say, speak about our character. They speak about what we are comfortable with, what we trust others with, and whether we are willing to be honest and sincere people even if we are judged far more harshly than those who are less open. Life isn’t fair, but we have to do our best anyway, and rely on God to redress the balance. Sometimes being open about ourselves means having to be brave and courageous enough to face those ugly truths about ourselves in the knowledge that everyone else is aware of those weaknesses and problems. But if we are truly virtuous and we struggle to live well, our struggles against our weaknesses may serve to inspire others whose struggles are less open and public to wrestle with their own demons. If we have to spill out our ink like blood, at least it may help encourage others to face their own problems, without everyone being forced to be so open and public themselves. At least then our endurance can be of use to others and serve a useful purpose beyond ourselves.