(Prompted by the reliably thoughtful Shift podcast by Euan Semple and Megan Murray)
The most recent episode of the podcast covered ‘Radical Transparency’. Lots of good things, but there was something missing (or at least, skated over): the impact of authenticity on others.
When we worry about what people are saying to us (whether those are our friends on Twitter or Facebook, or our organisational leaders and managers), our focus is naturally on the relationship we have with them. If they hold something back from us, we see that as a fault in that bilateral relationship. If they appear to be inauthentic in their communications, we might ascribe that to mendacity.
But (as Diana, Princess of Wales, put it so succinctly) there are often three (or more) people in our relationships. When a business fails to announce who has been laid off, except by deleting their names from the corporate phonebook, that isn’t necessarily because they are trying to hide something. At the very least, respect for those who are leaving through no fault of their own demands that we comply with their wishes about whether their departure is trumpeted. In extremis, there may be legal reasons why such an announcement is impossible.
Similar considerations apply at a personal level. Being transparent about the things that happen around us can affect the people we talk about. This is not new. Euan mentioned a book he was reading about the writing of memoirs. I would be interested to know if it covers the problem of considering other people’s perspectives on events (and the consequences of not doing that well).
Authenticity and transparency cannot meant just broadcasting thoughts as they occur to us. There may be value in doing so for our own personal development or stress-reduction. There may be an audience for what we have to say (and that audience’s interest might even be more than just nosiness). Either reason could justify speaking rather than staying silent. But, even if both those things are true, we should be reluctant to speak when someone else could be affected.
When we publish our thoughts, we wield a small amount of power. The wider the audience, the more power we have. Anyone with power has a responsibility to consider how its use affects others. Those who are used to being in authority know this. Some of those who are new to it are still learning.
A walk, not more than a mile
along the barricade of land
between the ocean and the grey lagoon.
Six of us, hand in hand,
connected by blood. Underfoot
a billion stones and pebbles -
new potatoes, mint imperials,
the eggs of birds -
each rock more infinitely formed
than anything we own.
Spoilt for choice - which one to throw,
which to pocket and take home.
— The Stone Beach by Simon Armitage | Books | The Guardian
"Where do you get your inspiration? What sorts of things do you fill your head with? What do you read? Do you subscribe to anything? What sites do you visit on the Internet? What music do you listen to? What movies do you see? Do you look at art? What do you collect? What’s inside your scrapbook? What do you pin to the corkboard above your desk? What do you stick on your refrigerator? Who’s done work that you admire? Who do you steal ideas from? Do you have any heroes? Who do you follow online? Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field? Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do."
10 Ways To Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered — Show Your Work! — Medium
These are ten great tips, but this one struck a chord. Not everyone is confident about what they produce (or they may be unable to share it for other good reasons). Inspirations are inspiring though; just as interested people are interesting.
"Knowledge is not a dead pile of facts, but on the contrary, the outcome of a dynamic interaction with the world at large, and most importantly, with the other people in it."
- Stowe Boyd
"Athletes don’t necessarily want to understand what’s going on, they want to think the kinds of thought that allow them to succeed – and there’s a big difference between the two."
Benjamin Markovits · Success: What It Takes to Win at Sport · LRB 7 November 2013
I wonder if this is true of other success-focused activities. Do hedge-fund managers focus more on playing the game than theorising about it? Do lawyers too?
It’s tempting to judge what you read:
'I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those.'
However, a great thinker who has spent decades on an unusual line of thought cannot induce their context into your head in a few pages. It’s almost certainly the case that you don’t fully understand their statements.
Instead, you can say:
'I have now learned that there exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent.'
And if it feels worthwhile, you can make a genuine effort to understand that entire worldview. You don’t have to adopt it. Just make it available to yourself, so you can make connections to it when it’s needed.
— Bret Victor’s reading from 2013
I’m trying to build a jigsaw puzzle. I wish I could show you what it will be, but the picture isn’t on the box. But I can show you some of the pieces that snapped into place this year, and try to share a context for why they mattered so much to me.
If you are building a different puzzle, it’s possible these pieces won’t mean much to you. You might not have a spot for them to fit, or you might not yet. On the other hand, maybe some of these are just the pieces you’ve been looking for.
This is a brilliant description of the very personal process of building up a list of influences, whether they be articles from the web, books, music, buildings, works of art.
Bret Victor’s reading from 2013
"Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.
This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is just plain silly.
Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. It’s a rejection of science. It’s a rejection, really, of the foundation of Western civilization: yes, that paternalistic, racist, ethnocentric approach to knowledge that created the nuclear bomb, the Edsel, and New Coke, but which also keeps diabetics alive, lands mammoth airliners in the dark, and writes documents like the Charter of the United Nations."
— Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise