Having nothing to hide

Some of our actions, many of our thoughts, and most of our feelings remain unknown to anybody but ourselves. In some cases, this may be simple economy: unimportant as they are, nobody would be interested in them. Sometimes, perhaps, it's rather tactics: can you get something you want easier or more quickly if certain people don't have a clue about your intentions? Or it may be that you want to spare the feelings of others by keeping to yourself what you think or what you are about to do. And finally, sometimes your personal life needs protection from political or commercial exploitation, or just foul-minded individuals setting out to harm you. But even subtracting all that, a nagging suspicion remains that there is still more within that horizon which only you can cross, things you do only in private, thoughts you won't speak out loud, emotions you daren't express.

Just to avoid misunderstandings: we're not necessarily talking about severe matters here — there may be so many small things, things others wouldn't probably even notice (or invest much thought into to judge them). And yet you're hiding them, just in case — and perhaps because, if someone would look at them critically, you feel they'd be right. We hide things often not because there could be tangible consequences, but rather because we are ashamed of them ourselves.

Let's make a thought experiment: What would it mean to get them out into the open? What would happen? How would you have to change in order to be able to do so without fear (or shame)? Why is that so hard? (It is, no doubt. The reflex to hide is deeply entrenched in many of the ways our societies work. Not least because of this we admire honesty and openness so much in those who are capable of them.)

Part of the question is whether your actions, thoughts and feelings are in accordance with your values all the time. Is it sometimes that you'd rather hide them because they are not in harmony with the values you subscribe to? If, for example, you see consistency and integrity as important, and then find yourself acting (or even thinking or feeling) contrary to them, you may well feel an impulse not to admit even to yourself how weak your ability to stick to your values is. Another aspect is related to the views of others: is the higher or lower opinion that people might have of you a good enough reason to act in a given way? So do you hide actions sometimes not because they are inconsistent with your values, but because they're not compatible with what people think you should do, even if you don't agree to them, just to keep general opinion in your favor? And finally, is it sometimes so that you keep your thoughts to yourself merely because they might hinder your career if they became known to someone, or might cause you some material disadvantage?

On reflection, as you have certainly found, these motives I've just listed are questionable, especially the latter ones. Are money, reputation and career progress important enough to make you operate with two faces? Are integrity and justness, courage and perseverance, kindness and generosity, honesty and modesty — are these values that you have to hide whenever you encounter someone who thinks that wealth and pleasure, reputation and power rather are the things worth having? But even the first motive, not owning up to things you've done because they contradict your own goals, seems not sound when thought through to the bottom: if you're not willing to admit even to yourself such a divergence between what you've done and what you think you should have done, then how could you ever make progress in becoming more congruent there? And if you're willing to admit it to yourself, then what point would there be in hiding it from others? (Given that you've just agreed that catering to the opinions of others in itself is no good reason either.)

So shouldn't be the goal one along these lines: to develop a character such that none of your feelings, thoughts and actions are such that you would not want to admit them, be it to yourself or anyone; to be able to recognize, and own up to, situations where you still fall short of that goal — be it toward yourself or others; to live in a way that any of your doings might come out into the open, and be comfortable with it? Of course, that doesn't mean that you have to run around confessing whenever you think you haven't been at your best; and neither does it imply you should impose the details of everything you think and feel on anybody who wants to listen. But there shouldn't be anything among those details that you'd be ashamed of. Not getting everything out in the open may be all right, but the reason shouldn't be a desire to hide. The goal should be having nothing left that needs hiding. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.