“We all have a dark side,” used to say my mentor. We did talk about it not because we were overly pessimistic, but to acknowledge human nature and in so doing to be more accepting of the challenges and issues along the way. Nothing is ever perfect or smooth, and actually overcoming those challenges helps us become more resilient. I'm reminded of the popular saying “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”
Fridays I like to talk about connections and this topic has been on my mind lately.
It is natural -- and human -- to want to put our best foot forward in social contexts. Yet with social networks becoming more and more the nodes of our most significant communications with others, we run the risk of rosy-washing reality. Perhaps even to confuse the edited version with the real one. Our brains do see immersive experiences as real.
Caterina Fake talked about the human need to acknowledge both sides of our selves in “Social Peacocking and the Shadow” recently#:
It occurred to me that the real problem was not the showing off. The eminence grise that was Carl Jung showed us what can happen to those who stay on the sunny side, and only on the sunny side of life.
Jung posited the idea of The Shadow, the dark side of one’s character.
The Shadow is not only what is evil, but what is petty, selfish, childish, annoying, and usually unconscious. The more a person acknowledges his shadow, and brings it into consciousness, the healthier and more whole the person will be. But if driven underground and sent into hiding, The Shadow will take on a life of its own, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Because we are spending more and more time online, it might be interesting to observe and measure our quality connecting and experiencing there. I find that I draw more energy from being with actual people in a room than from a prolonged time online.
Culture plays a role in accepted and mirrored behaviors as well. Examine expressions and sayings and you will find some of the clues. For example, when you ask an Italian how they are doing, they will likely say non c'e' male (= not bad) ça va in French (= literally it goes). It took me a while to get used to the fact that in the U.S. 1) it is taken mostly as an expression, 2) you're supposed to say good.
An offhand online comment, even when made in good faith, sometimes does get through even the thickest of skins. The same bundles of nerves and emotions that make us social beings, creators, and friends also make us vulnerable to perception and public shaming.
There is a reason why entrepreneurs and public figures share their failures only after they succeed (as measured in wealth, fame/popularity, etc.) It is much easier to talk about what went wrong from a higher ground. Not to mention that it makes for a classic archetype of overcoming the odds -- a very attractive proposition to those (secretly) grappling with them.
This is probably one of the main reasons why we tend to play our cards close to the vest, not reveal our challenges, be reticent in asking for help. Yet when connected, our lives and work product are so much better. So how do we choose when to talk about our challenges? Who do you trust with the confidence they will keep their promises? Who do you turn to for help?
[image via Wikimedia]