I believe that each of us is transparent. By transparent, I mean we communicate the essence of our lives – not just the facts, but also our core values, beliefs, motivations and intents – whether or not we realize it, and whether or not we want to.
We have an uncanny ability to discern the truth about each other. I first learned this from my wife, who for five years conducted background investigations on military defense engineers who needed Top Secret security clearances. She would interview a dozen of John Q. Engineer’s co-workers, neighbors, and friends. And invariably, people who didn’t know each other would use the exact same words to describe him.
“Intense and quiet,” they might say. “But get him talking about his rental property investments, and suddenly he’s the life of the party.”
My awareness of transparency grew during the dot-com years, when, as a business owner, I began Googling job candidates and prospective clients. I was amazed at how much detail I could learn about complete strangers – and then of course, I realized they could learn the same about me.
Around that time, Enron brought the term ‘transparency’ back into vogue. Companies and governments are transparent, too – whether or not they realize it, and whether or not they want to be. I began encouraging my marketing clients to embrace transparency as a business advantage. People buy what they trust, and they trust what they know. It’s straight math to see that transparency builds sales.
Or at least it should. Transparency is morally neutral. A person may be transparently evil, or self-centered, or bigoted. Scrooge was a transparent humbug. But for most of us, if the content of our hearts is visible to the world, we will try to keep our hearts as pure as possible.
Preaching transparency was easy. Adopting it for myself was scary. I felt there were aspects of my heart that quite frankly would be too damaging for other people to learn. Did I really want to admit when I was feeling insecure, or envious, or tempted, or any number of other daily unflattering states of being? But when I thought about it, these were things I criticized myself for – not things other people would hold against me. Practicing transparency gradually made me more relaxed, more forgiving, and decidedly more humble. Which in turn made me more accepting and forgiving of others.
I’ve found that the more transparent I am, the more transparent other people are toward me. I’m less prone to Googling people now, and more confident that they will tell me who they are, if I’m just willing to listen.
Now that I’m few years into it, living with transparency has become like a refreshing swim in the ocean. Each day I experience more joy interacting with the deeply complex people around me. After all: the more we reveal of ourselves to each other, the more interesting we become. The writer Harold Brodkey once told me, “All subjects are infinite and interconnected.” Transparency takes us once step closer to that realization.
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