How honest should I be on the Internet? Should I limit personal details or should I put it all out there? Is there a such thing as too honest? I think about these questions a lot when I write, and while I don't know that I have specific answers for the first two questions, I want to examine the third one. Because I think if we can answer this last question, we might answer the first two. So let's look...Is there such a thing as too honest?
As someone who writes a blog, I also read a lot of blogs. I'm subscribed to several different websites, and I read dozens more on a daily basis. I love blogs and I love that the Internet has created a place where such free expression is possible. But what I've noticed in the blogging world is a steadily growing trend of share-all posts. This is a title I came up with on my own, but I'm referring to blog posts where someone writes honestly about an event/experience/situation without hiding any details. Many of these posts are well-intentioned, candid, and sincere, but they're also dangerous.
When I read share-all posts, I am forced to face someone else's brutal honesty and whether or not that is something lacking in my own writing. I find myself constantly asking myself, are they too honest or am I not honest enough? I'm speaking specifically about blogging and writing, but the same question can be applied to any social media platform. How honest should we be on the Internet? I don't think there is any doubt that what older generations would consider to be personal and private is now being published regularly, but is this good or bad?
Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks the Internet is a terrible place we should avoid at all costs. And I'm not saying we should stop posting personal things. What I am saying is I think these types of posts (both share-all posts and personal posts of any nature) are a reflection of something a lot of people, arguably every person on earth, is searching for. This quote from Tim Keller explains it best:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” - Tim Keller
"To be fully known and truly loved." That's what we want. At least, that's what I want. I'll be the first person to tell you that I want people to know who I am and to love me because of my strengths and in spite of my flaws. That's what we are all looking for, isn't it? The problem is that the Internet is not where we should be searching. While the Internet offers a lot of great things, unconditional love is not one of them.
I realize this may sound hypocritical from someone who writes a blog and shares posts via several social media outlets, but I don't claim to be perfect in this area. I want people to read what I write and I want them to like it. But that isn't my goal in writing. Unfortunately, this wasn't always the case. I used to live and die by the amount of positive feedback I received from a blog post. I've spent time counting the likes and rereading the comments, but what I quickly learned about that life is that it is empty and lonely. The Internet cannot and will not sustain you, which is why I have come to believe there are limits as to how much we should share on here.
Let me paint a picture.
Imagine I invited you over to my house to have dinner, and I told you we were going to be eating, let's say, lasagna. There are two ways I could go about preparing dinner. One option is I could go to the grocery store, buy a box of frozen lasagna, open it a few hours before you came over, put it in the oven, wait, pull it out, and serve it as my own creation. We would enjoy a good (not great) meal and you would most likely leave my house assuming I cook some decent lasagna. While that seems like a great evening to me, what's the obvious problem with this scenario? It's dishonest. I didn't make lasagna. I just heated up lasagna. There's a huge difference, and whether or not you knew it at the time, the meal was cheap and uninspired.
On the other hand, here's the other way I might prepare lasagna. I could go to the grocery store early in the day before our dinner, buy all the necessary ingredients, go home, cook the beef, add peppers, onions, and garlic, put this glorious creation into a pot, add tomatoes and sauce ingredients to cook to perfection, boil and drain the lasagna noodles, place them in a clean dish, add the hand-made sauce, cover it with parmesan cheese and more noodles, put it in the oven to cook, wait, pull it out, and serve all of this to you as my own creation. We would enjoy a great (not just good) meal and you would leave my house knowing for a fact I cook amazing lasagna.
Which of these scenarios sounds better to you? Which of these lasagnas do you think is better? Obviously, the honest-made meal is better than the generic ready-made one, so yeah, you'll take the hand-made lasagna with a large side of honesty. Let's bring it back to writing. When I write something on this blog (and when you're writing your own blog or posting on social media), it has to be honest and it has to be real. I don't want to serve people frozen lasagna. I want to work diligently in the kitchen over something I've crafted to the best of my ability, so that when you read it I know I've given you the best I have to offer. But you have to draw a line.
Look around this website and you'll see honesty. I write about what I know and what I know includes fear, comparison, pride, addiction, doubt, shame, and a million other issues. I'm not shy about writing down my struggles, but at the same time it is impossible for anyone to read this blog or my social media accounts and know everything about me. And that's intentional. I would be more than happy to share my ingredients with one person. In fact, there are several people in my life who have been to my kitchen and seen the mess I've made. But that's a privilege for few, not a right for all.
This meal is hand-made, but that doesn't mean you get to come into the kitchen and see all the ingredients.
Here's what we have to remember about the Internet: if this website is my kitchen and these posts are my meals, I have to realize there are a lot of mouths to feed. I'm not saying my website is extremely popular (it's not), but when I put things out there I do so with the realization that hundreds of people (people I don't necessarily know, by the way) might read them. No one would invite a hundred people inside their kitchen to watch them prepare a meal, so why would we treat our lives like a free-for-all-come-on-in-and-take-what-you-want dining experience? When it comes to my life, I'm not a private person, but just because I don't keep anyone out doesn't mean I should let everyone in.
I don't think it's possible to be too honest about yourself, but I do think it's possible to share too much of yourself. That's why I write with a cautious abandon. Nothing is hidden, but not everything is given. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to you, and maybe you totally disagree. If so, great. I will never look down on honesty. I just think it's important to balance honesty with wisdom and discernment.
The Internet is a great place for honest reflection, but it is not a place for candid confession. It's not a place that we should give ourselves to. When we, as both producers and consumers of social media, put everything we are out there for everyone to see, we lose. We lose parts of ourselves we can't get back and we lost the authenticity of real relationships. The more of ourselves we give away to the Internet the less of ourselves we have to give away to the people closest to us. If hundreds of strangers have been inside my kitchen and seen my messy ingredients, what makes it special when I personally invite you in? @@We cheapen the experience of true honesty when we make it all-inclusive@@.
I don't want you to read this and be discouraged. Continue writing and posting and continue to be honest while you do. I only write this because I don't want us to give all that we have to a medium that gives very little back. Posting personal details on the Internet is a high-risk, low-reward scenario and it's only worth doing if you know and understand your motives. Everyone, myself included, wants to be fully known and truly loved. But if you're looking for love and acceptance from likes, clicks, and comments you're looking in the wrong place. Love and acceptance comes from high-quality people, not a high-quantity of people. Choose carefully those who are welcome in your kitchen.