How Open Is Too Open?

One of the benefits of community group discussions is that they help us to flesh out what we’re learning on Sunday mornings. The post below is from our Music Director at Grace, Keith Groover, and was spurred on by conversations with his community group after this sermon. Thanks Keith!

Keith’s Thoughts

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about for the past few weeks is “how open is too open?” As in, what’s appropriate to share with others? Can you be honest without burdening those around you unnecessarily, and can you be private without being a closed-off hermit?

First, why should you even be honest? If you’re struggling with something, is that anyone’s business but yours? Well, yes, it’s your own business, but who you *really* are affects other people as well. In relationships, whether they’re professional or personal, people build up their expectations for who you are and what you’re capable of based largely upon how you present yourself. If you present a true version of yourself, people will know where you stand and what you’re capable of, and you will have functional relationships with those around you. But if you present yourself falsely, eventually your actions will not match your words, and you will disappoint the people who depend on you.

A quick analogy to illustrate this point: you’re a hammer. You tell people you’re a hammer, and they expect you to act like a hammer. You act like a hammer, and everyone’s expectations are met and everyone is happy. If people need a screwdriver, they don’t come to you because you aren’t a screwdriver. No one is disappointed. After all, no one expects a hammer to be a great screwdriver. But problems arise if you tell people that you’re actually a screwdriver. When they expect you to do screwdriver-like things, they’re going to feel disappointed and cheated when they find out you’re actually a hammer. And they *will* find out, because their expectations will not be met by what you can actually deliver. Your ability to lie about being a screwdriver is unsustainable in the long-run.

But how do you present a true version of yourself while maintaining your privacy? Everyone has dirty laundry, and it’s completely acceptable to keep that dirty laundry away from the public. The world doesn’t need to know *exactly* who you are and what you’ve done, right?

I believe honesty truly is the best policy, but here’s the key: you can be *comprehensive* in your honesty without being *exhaustive* in your honesty. “Comprehensive” meaning broad and “big picture”, and “exhaustive” meaning every last detail is exposed and catalogued. I see this as a kind of “honesty continuum”, with comprehensive on one end and exhaustive on the other end, but you can land on any point between those two.

So how do you choose the proper point on that continuum? How much should you share or hold in? It really should be made on a case-to-case basis. I was discussing this with several friends the other night, and one friend made a great point: is sharing this information going to be helpful to both of you and to your relationship? Or is it going to cause harm? Ultimately, if the person receiving the information is in a position where he can *help*, and/or that information is not going to harm him, it’s probably okay to share. But that isn’t always the case.

For example, you struggle with a gambling addiction. You have a friend whose father struggled with gambling, and he can help you and it’s not going to hurt him, so you open up to him. He gives you advice and support, and everything is great. In another instance, though, you’re offered a job where you will have significant access and freedom over your company’s money. You know that you’ll likely get into trouble if you accept the job. What do you do? Well, if your boss can help you with your addiction and you trust him with the information, you can tell him up front that you’re afraid you will gamble with the money. Most likely, though, he’s not in a position to help you, so you tell him that you can’t take the job. When he asks you why, you can tell him that you don’t have the ability to work with large amounts of money like that. Most likely he’s going to want to dig a little further and figure out what you mean. You can back off at that point and say “I have personal reasons why I can’t.” You have been comprehensively truthful, but not exhaustively truthful. Your boss understands the big picture, but doesn’t necessarily need to know every last detail, because he can’t help you with what you’re going through.

There are many other situations, of course, but mentally working through them, I’ve found that those two questions really help me to sort them out: Will sharing this be hurtful? Will sharing this be helpful? I believe we as a society tend to be way too closed-off from one another, and that we also tend to show the world only our good side without even hinting at our negatives. In order to open up, I don’t think we need to go whole-hog and start recreating scenes from the world of “The Invention of Lying”, where everyone is *painfully* honest and open with one another (because lying doesn’t exist.) What we need to do, though, is give people enough information so that they will have realistic expectations as to how we’ll act and what we can do.