Transparent or Opaque?

Recently I wrote a blog post about some big changes in my personal life – my second divorce – that drew the following comment from a friend:  “I applaud your boldness to be so transparent! “

The truth is, after blogging every day for over three years, and sharing many of the details of what some would consider to be my private life in public, I honestly don’t know any other way to be. This kind of transparency doesn’t seem bold to me any longer, because it feels so natural. But it did seem bold to my friend, and I am sure it does to many people who shy away for fear of shame or embarrassment, anxiety about what others may think, or a simple desire to protect what they perceive as their privacy. They pull back from expressing, sharing, or – heaven forbid – broadcasting, how they truly feel.

Seeing the word transparent in my friend’s comment made me think of an exercise I often conduct with my younger son. He’s five, and I’m always trying to expand his growing vocabulary. When I offer him cereal, macaroni and cheese (his all-time favorite), or ice cream, I ask if he would like his food in a transparent or an opaque bowl.  In his case, the choice is academic, but in life, I believe we make a choice, at some point, to live in a transparent or an opaque bowl.

This choice is to let light shine in – and ours shine out – freely, or to hide ourselves in the dark behind windowless walls. We may not be aware of this choice, as it often follows a pattern, inherited from family or instilled by others, that we unconsciously repeat. Whether the choice is conscious or not, being transparent or opaque has significant consequences on our ability to live our lives freely and fully.

If we choose to live in an opaque bowl:

  • We live in constant fear of being exposed.
  • No one can respond to our feelings, or be supportive, because we refuse to share them.
  • We build walls of shame around things we feel the need to hide.
  • We hide things so successfully from others that we begin to hide them from ourselves.
  • We split the self into a public and a private persona.
  • We base our decisions and actions on others people’s judgments and expectations.
  • We deny ourselves the gift of finding strength through embracing our vulnerability.

If we choose to live in a transparent bowl:

  • We liberate ourselves by putting everything out there, and the fear of being exposed can never hold us back.
  • We express our feelings, especially when we’re down or experiencing hard times, and we receive a flow of support, often from unexpected places.
  • We release ourselves from shame, an emotion that can cripple, even paralyze us, and begin to move more freely in the direction of our dreams.
  • We set the record straight, because whatever anyone imagined about us was probably much worse than the truth.
  • We stop compartmentalizing our feelings, enabling us to start processing and learning from experience.
  • Our friends, colleagues, and partners begin to appreciate us for who we really are.
  • Transparency begets transparency, and people start to share more of themselves with us.
  • We can say to anyone we meet, what you see is what you get.
  • We stop projecting an image and actually show our true selves to the world.

When the image we project differs radically from the actual self, we experience a split. Put another way, the bowl cracks.

Splits play a large role in unhealthy behaviors, personality disorders, breakdowns, and many other obstacles that we place or find in our own way on the path to happiness and fulfillment. Transparency brings everything into clear focus, and our actual and projected selves become one and the same.

You don’t have to write a blog about your personal experiences or share everything you’re feeling at any moment to be transparent. Transparency is not about ranting, trying to titillate, crowing about your conquests, or wallowing in self-pity. It’s not about airing your dirty laundry instead of keeping it in the basket where it belongs. Transparency is about living an honest life and being open to having others see through the bowl into the real you.

We don’t always get to choose what life serves us, but we do get to choose our bowl. Which bowl do you choose – transparent or opaque?

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Leave A Reply (10 comments So Far)

  • Refreshing. Masks attract masks and authenticity attracts authenticity….or as you have proposed transparency. Always enjoy your articles so much Tom. Thank you for your transparency. I am grateful that you choose a bowl that allows the light. 

    • Tom Fiffer

      Dondi, Thank you for your kind words. If I can bring even one ray of light into the darkness, I feel I am doing my job.

  • Keeping it real with Tom F… Thanks for this dose of transparency and wisdom!

    See so much damage done from people trying to compartamentalize their selves and lives. A cracked bowl…this anology will stay with me a long time. Thanks for your call to honest living. 

    • Tom Fiffer

      Mollie, Thanks for your support and for highlighting the image of the cracked bowl. That is going to find its way into another article!

  • Great article Tom!  We hide from that which we don’t want to see but then we lose the opportunity to grow.  We all continue to grow throughout life.  Thank you for sharing your process so openly and willingly and in doing so being a model for others to learn from!

    • Tom Fiffer

      Thanks, Michelle! You make a great point that we must come out from hiding to grow. Or put another way, we can’t hide and seek at the same time.

  • Beautiful article, Tom. I love the idea that being transparent isn’t about airing our dirty laundry but it’s about living an honest life and being open to letting others see the real us. I am convinced that living that way empowers others to lay aside the fatigue that comes from trying to keep up appearances. It does become amusing to see others so bewildered by transparency. ha! I know in my case, I have to be sensitive because so much of what I share about love and romance ends up reflecting my own private life which happens to include a certain man whose personality is, well, much more private than my own!

    • Thank you, Gina. You are so right about the empowerment that transparency brings, because hiding things takes so much effort. And yes, I know what you mean about being sensitive to others’ needs for privacy. There is a fine line when we draw from life experience to share our stories.

  • Wonderful words eloquently written.  You are definitely born to be transparent.  It’s an article that gets me thinking.  Thanks!