Friday, October 10, 2008

The Risk of Transparency

I read somewhere that if we are to truly love, we have to risk transparency.

Ok, can I admit that this scares the shit out of me?

(Oops... I think I owe my kiddos a buck for that one. It's in print, so does it count?)

So, fine. Be transparent. Risk it. Well, I'll tell you one thing, I'm good and transparent under the cover of anonymity! Although I guess sometimes wearing my heart on my sleeve doesn't go over so well with those who happen upon it.

Just yesterday I tossed a message in a bottle out into the gulf. After about an hour it whipped back my way and bonked me in the head. The note was in the same bottle but on different paper. It was a response from another person! Someone read my heartfelt words and decided to respond! Anonymously! Yea!! So I read it and it said...

Oh, you don't want the details. (Trust me. I'll owe my kids another seven bucks if I reprint it.) But let's just say I made an impression. But you know, the transparency of my message in a bottle did rub that person the wrong way. (For certain.)

So is being transparent not a good idea after all? Oh, but hold on a sec...! I don't even know that person that tossed the bottle back at me. I don't even know the GENDER, so how could they possibly know (let alone understand) me or what I was trying to say? Should I really be upset that my attempt at being transparent flopped like a deflated soccer ball in the heat of summer? Anyone would tend to say things anonymously, which they wouldn't dare to say face to face. After all, the anonymity potential of a "message in a bottle" prompted not only the other person's colorfully rude comment, but my nakedly honest original message in the first place.

But what about transparency with someone I actually care about? How would that work out?
Differently, I hope.

Well, I had the opportunity to test that this week. This week, for a number of reasons, has been a whirlwind of emotion. Practical reasons aside, I have been dealing with a personal relationship issue that has been confusing to me.

(To say the least.)

I had the opportunity to be transparent early in the week, with great results. So great, in fact, that I tried it again on Thursday, when it seemed like things were losing steam. What happened then were, um, complications? And to clear, the "complications" which resulted could very well be interpreted as absolutely nothing at all. The fact is, I was afraid to risk being transparent in the first place. I was afraid of how the information would be received. I thought it was fine, and then I was transparent again, with basically the same information, and the same person, and got a seemingly different response. What prompted the second round of honest dissertation to begin with? Um, fear. How did I decide how I thought the second response was intended? I went off of my fear(s). I was afraid that what seemed like "nothing" was really "something" without any explanation.

(Boy, I sure can get mixed up in the complexities of life!)

But if I am to back off and look ''less closely'' at who said what to whom, (or didn't say or do) and what happened when and where the... uh.. Well, all of that, I would see that nothing has really changed.

Nothing has really changed.

Yep. The same stuff going on from Tuesday through Thursday has not vanished since Thursday. Nothing has changed! But see, that is what fear does to us. It screws with our heads.

No, really.

Funny thing, those movies... Ever watch a movie where there is a closeup of the actor on the ledge of a building stories high, and you just know they are only probably six inches off the ground? Without thinking about that, your mind tricks you into thinking they are up high. But the reverse is true, too...

I was recently up on a ladder, and pretty darned high. I don't especially like heights, particularly when they are high enough to end my existence. But I imagine ladder climbing is not too dangerous when done properly.

''Six inches off the ground... Six inches off the ground... I'm only six inches off the ground...''

And before I knew it, I was on the ground itself.

The point here is that what we think influences how we feel. So much so, that it can alter our life's situations and important decisions.

I have a girlfriend who is in an unhappy marriage. She considered transparency, considered the risk. If she is transparent, she risks her husband exploding, accusing, blaming her for the problems in the marriage. She was afraid he would tell their son that she broke up the family, and God forbid, what if the husband began some self-defeating behaviors? Transparent for this girl means saying "you know, this isn't working for me because you don't seem happy with me. I need to go and have a different life." And to her, what she though could happen if she said that, wasn't worth the risk. She talked to unsupportive family members about it, and decided not to risk transparency. As for me, I feel like the risk is not to consider what you lose, but what you gain. After all, what could she gain? At the very least, freedom. (If nothing else.) At the most? A happy life with someone to love her the way she needs.

Hey, I think I'm hitting on something here.

I mentioned earlier that I am afraid to be transparent. Scared shitless, to be honest! After all, I am risking that person not responding the way I want. For instance, if I were worried about saying "I love you" to anyone, the greatest risk is that they will not say it back. But is that a life-altering thing? If I say "I love you" it's to express it, not to fish for information... If I don't get an "I love you back", that is OK with me.

I think that when we consider what we are afraid of, especially when it comes to being transparent in relationships, we need to consider not what we risk to lose, but instead what we risk not gaining. (There is a difference, you know.)

I was just in Dallas where I visited another friend named Karen. Karen is very much in love, although not technically dating, a man she had as a boyfriend 20 years ago in high school. Today, she says he surely loves, but doesn't seem to be "in love" with her, although he is often "around", helping her here and there around the house. I, personally, think he loves her, because he does so much for her. On the other hand, he doesn't spend a lot of time with her because he has a crazy work schedule, a lot of family, and kids on alternating weekends. But when she needs him, he is there. He's just in and out as quickly as he can be. It's like a relationship without the relationship.

The truth is that Karen loves this man, always has, and wants nothing more than to be in a real relationship with him, where she doesn't have to wonder about how he feels, or if he wants to be with her or not. (Not to mention dating anyone else!)

"You don't understand," she told be a couple of weeks ago, "yeah, he does a lot for me, a LOT, but when he is over, he doesn't take that minute to, you know... Look into my eyes, or kiss me really warmly. He comes over, says 'hey, I know you need oil in your car...' he takes care of it, gives me a quick kiss and a big hug, and he's out the door! If he loves me, why wouldn't he be able to spend two hours watching a movie, instead of two hours trimming the hedges?''

(Yeah, I can see her point...)

But I know something she doesn't, and that's because I've read The Five Love Languages! His primary love language seems to be Acts of Service. He IS loving her, but her love language is quality time. Something he doesn't have much of. As an outsider, I can see that he is doing everything he can to be loving with the time he has. He's cramming lots of love into every moment he is with her. But she doesn't feel it that way. She sees it as a bunch of busy work and "what about the good stuff??" She wants to be transparent, but is afraid. She needs that relaxed time with him, needs to know if he loves her the way she loves him, but is it all too much to ask? If she asks, is she being insensitive to HIS needs?

Should she risk transparency? Let's look at this new concept of risk that I hit on a minute ago, shall we?

There are two kinds of risk when we consider transparency. Risk a) of what we fear, and risk b) of what we lose by not being transparent. It's the difference between gambling and not investing, when you look at it that way...

So what would happen if she says, "As busy as you are, could we spend some 'quality time' together instead of 'work time'? I sure would love that...!''?

A) She is risking that he'll give a reaction she doesn't want. Since she is very much in love with this man, the WORST reaction would be something like, "Uh, well, I don't feel that way about you, so no. I don't want to spend 'quality time' with you." (I guess the one thing worse than that would be to add "...and I don't think I should keep helping you either." Ouch!)

B) If she DOESN'T risk transparency, she risks losing out on something she could gain. But what is that, exactly? We did "worst case" in A, so "best case"...? He says "I thought you'd never ask! Sure!" He comes over, things go, uh... they go well, he stays until the wee hours of the morning and he decides he can't live without her either. They decide to get together, eventually marry and have a long life together, living every moment blissfully happy until they both are 102.

Ok, I said best case.

So maybe it's stretching it out a little past what we could reasonably predict, but you know... If we are going to be afraid of "the worst" isn't it reasonable that we anticipate "the best"? (It's logical to me, anyway!)

Ok, so let's dial it down on the reality scale. Revisions...

A) He says something she doesn't want. (Reality check! He DOES care for her!! Why would he do all that stuff otherwise? Come ON now!) So maybe this... "Oh gosh! I wish I could, but I can't. At least not this week. I have to do [x,y,z] and I am probably going to be busy this weekend too..."

Hey, that wasn't too bad. He cares for her, maybe he can do it another time. Maybe he won't, but that he told her he WANTS to come, but can't at least tells her something: it tells her how he feels. It's not just about getting stuff done. There are feeling there.

Ok... B) What does she reasonably risk if she doesn't try? Well, maybe he would go over and they would have a nice time watching a movie and eating friend chicken. Maybe they would kiss and when he leaves two hours later, (Reality check! He's busy!!) she'd feel this really great sense of joy, and maybe he'd feel pretty good, too.

Hey, looks like the good is pretty darned good, and the bad ain't that bad. Seems like there is no reason to not risk it.

The people are the same, the situation is the same, everything is the same. Now, things DO change, but things which change can also change back. Things which are not changeable won't change in the first place. What does this mean? It's simple...

It means that if I (you, we...) are afraid that things are one way one moment, and another way the next, we need to do a reality check. Anything which is a constant, and causes the good thing, won't change into something different. If my dog loves me, but one day she is ignoring me, the dog didn't change. The circumstances changed. The second part to this is that circumstances, which could influence a constant, is temporary and can (and will) also change back. If my dog is ignoring me, maybe she has an upset tummy. That will go away and she will no longer ignore me. It's how we respond to the constants and the situations which influence our life. This is the crux of why good things come into our lives, by the way. When we see the good things for what they are, and don't worry about the changeable aspects which temporarily influence the current state of the positives, while dismissing the bad things, the bad things fall away and the good things remain. (More about that another day...! :)

So I think I've just proven something to myself. (And maybe to you.) The risk of transparancy is much greater than you think. The great risk is not is losing so very much if you are transparant and you "fail"... (by not getting your desired response.) The GREAT RISK in not risking transparancy is what you can not gain if you do not take the step to be transparant. Karen may decide to risk transparancy. (Especially after reading this!) And she has a better than 50/50 chance of things going her way. She can't go backwards, only forward. My other, unnamed friend didn't want to risk it, and lost much more by NOT risking it than she would lose if things did not go as she'd wish. At the least she'd have her freedom, if nothing else.

So when I was transparant, I took a risk. My efforts turned out one way one time, and another way the second. But what I have learned is that nothing really changed. Risking transparancy means opening the door for opportunity, and if I choose to let my fears influence how I think and feel about what results, that is my problem, and not an accurate reflection of what is going on. I risked transparancy. Risk. Hey! I risked transparancy! I risked it and I came through ok, and not only that, I have a lot to look forward to. Opportunity is just around the corner, my cristal-clear self was only days ago. The risk is over, I've done my part. And all constants remain, so I am in good shape.

I'm in great shape! I did what I was afraid of, and I came out just great!

(And I didn't even have to say, "Six inches off the ground...!")


  1. Hello again Lorin,

    Absolutely right! To paraphrase Newton's Third Law of physics, every risk carries an equal and opposite risk.

    For some reason, people seem to focus selectively on one set of risks and miss their opposites.

    Transparency is (almost) always the best thing, especially (but not only) for us Aspies. One of our most important stocks in trade is our honesty. Let's capitalize on that.

    The one thing I need most in my friends, and one of the things I can best offer them, is transparency.

    For that matter, I think almost anyone would benefit by trying some more transparency.

    One thing I've learned as I've grown up is that we tend to regret much more the risks we didn't take than the risks we did. Especially risks involving "that special someone".

    Quite often, what we're "risking" by being transparent is simply finding out once and for all what the situation is. We have a suspicion about what might be happening, but we're reluctant to face the facts.

    I've learned that hiding from the facts and muddling through self-deception and/or mutual misunderstanding is like pulling a Band-Aid off a hairy patch of skin one millimeter at a time.

    Also, some things really should be expressed. You're right in that if you say "I love you," even if the other person doesn't return the feeling, you've said it and it's good. You did all you could and the other person turned you down. It's liberating.

    Last but not least, the sine qua non of transparency is self-understanding. After all, a window with the curtains drawn does little good.

    Have a good night!

    Jeff Deutsch

    PS: Since it's in print...I'd say you owe the kids two bucks.

  2. Touche' Jeff, although, I might also add ''gotcha''! You see, I had it in print twice! Lol!

    Two bucks is a bargain. Done!

    In reference to your comment, just today I had a poignant example about transparency. Someone was "transparent" about their negative feelings, with regard to a comment I previously made to them. (Well, not initially, but the next day it came up.) Interestingly, it was my comment which was not "transparent"!

    I was trying to get a point across that it was OK to mention a situation to me, I know about it, and if it needs to affect something I have going on, it's not a problem. I knew it was likely to be sensitive to the other person so when I said it, I tried to be less direct and make (what I thought was a caring) REFERENCE to the situation. In retrospect, I should have just said what I said in the first line if this paragraph: I know, it's ok. The reference I made was perceived as sarcasm. That maybe I had negative feelings about the situation, and that I meant the opposite of what I said. I was mortified, because I earnestly tried to show my acceptance and understanding! I thought I was being caring, but it was interpreted as containing negative feelings instead.

    But the person was transparent about how they felt about the comment, which I am grateful for! If it weren't for that, we would probably have tension. (Which I would feel but not know why.) It is very likely that this kind of thing, had it gone another way, could be the type of thing which could permanently wound a relationship: those which are chronically unresolved. But if simply talked about, could bring people closer, not apart.

    I think that in this case, the other person eventually realized that my reference was really rooted in a desire to express acceptance, love and understanding. The reality was VERY different from the initial (and false) impression of the same comment: jealousy, desire to be hurtful, angry. WOW! Even now it's such a big deal to see the difference that being transparent makes!! Opposite ends of an emotional scale. If only I had been transparent, the person would not have been angry with me. And if the person had not been transparent I would not have been able to demonstrate that it was actually rooted in love.

    Isn't it mystifying to think that one little thing... One decision whether to or not to express one's honest thoughts and feelings, can make a relationship better or ruin it for good? It's a little scary.

    I guess the upside, and a reassuring thought to me (if no one else), is when we are in those situations where we stop to think, "if I say THIS, I could change things for good... What do I do?" the truth is that if it changes at all, it's only going to make things better. Saying something changes a circumstance, not a reality. Also, that which we might "lose" (if anything) is quantifiably lower than that which we are likely to "gain". AND... if the response to our transparency is more transparency (from the other person), it increases the odds of continuing up a positive path. (That's what happened today, and that seems to be the case. Although I have seen the situation before and it always seems to work in the same positive way. It's when things are hidden when things do not grow, but shrink.)

    Ok, I need to stop here or I'll go all day! Lol!

    Thanks for your comment, Jeff! As always, you are very kind and a wonderful friend! *big hug*

  3. This has been a very inspiring post.

    "As for me, I feel like the risk is not to consider what you lose, but what you gain." When I get in "perfectionist mode", risk becomes all about what I can lose. It's hard to break the perfectionism habit and learn that allowing imperfection actually allows room for growth (which is the gain). Do you ever get in "perfectionist modes"? And if so, how do you deal with that?

    An important thing that you reflect on is that if a person dishes out transparency, the person better be able take it as well. So often I forego transparency because I feel I'll flinch if it's put back into my face. I forego transparency also because my past has been filled with the type of people that use transparency like a weapon; I'm just not familiar with using transparency to establish a humane connection.

    I appreciate the post you've written as it makes me think about these things.

  4. Hello Lorin,

    Oh dear - twice in your post? You bad girl!

    One thing about transparency - it really helps if you are direct, concrete and to the point. In this post and your next post, you could be talking about anything at all or nothing at all.

    I can understand your need to be that abstract; it still makes it difficult for people to understand. Especially us Aspies.

    Don't take my word for it; ask any bureaucrat. Bureaucracy has been obfuscating polysyllabically - in a sesquipedelian manner - from the beginning.


    Jeff Deutsch

  5. Hi Lorin,

    This is a fascinating post; I really enjoyed reading it and find your insight quite valuable.

    Thanks for visiting my site today!



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