There are few among us who have never felt the need to “make a good first impression,” even when we know the countenance and behavior we are presenting are not the real thing. We all have our public and private selves, and admittedly, the person we are when we are around people who know and understand us, is not necessarily who we are at work, at church or at school.
The conflict comes when we decide we have to be that perfect, public self all of the time. The truth is, most of us can’t pull it off for very long, unless we’re sociopaths. It’s not something we should want to do. While it might be great to have everybody marveling at our perfection, when the mask slips and we reveal our true selves, which arguably may not be that bad, the shock and disappointment can damage the relationship we have with the person who we basically tricked into believing the false image we had shown them. The other downside is that the perfect, public self is probably not nearly as interesting as the real thing, even with all of our warts. When we don’t reveal who we really are, we may be shortchanging others and ourselves.
Nobody is advocating for going through life completely filterless. We have to behave in a way that doesn’t buck important societal norms, like not breaking in line when we really want to or not calling someone a disrespectful name, even when we think they might deserve it. Words have consequences, so we have to curb some of our thoughts and feelings so that riots don’t break out. We also shouldn’t want our words to wound. One exercise to try when you really want to give somebody a piece of your mind is to stand in front of a mirror and let them have it, out loud as if you were speaking to them. For me, hearing the words lets me know just how biting and sharp they sound, and 95 times out of 100 make me change my mind. The words might have been what I thought I wanted to say, what I thought my authentic self would express, but my point was to inform, not impale.
That “listen before you leap” approach to dialogue, is also something to think about before we tweet. How many times has a cruel or thoughtless tweet, ignited a firestorm or brought unintentional pain to someone else? Probably millions of times a day, all over the world.
Being ourselves is healthy. It certainly beats having to hold up a false front for fear someone might find out who we really are. Being transparent also can help us grow and refine ourselves, as we not only learn who we are but who we want to be. But it’s not an excuse to abuse those we disagree with, whether it’s in person or in the twittersphere.
We can only be our best selves when we afford others the civility we would want for ourselves.