‘But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…’ John 3:21
By now, if you’ve had anything to do with the internet, you have heard about “catfish”. Yes, for those of you who have been blessed to be blissfully unaware of such creatures who lurk around in the dregs of the pond of cyberspace, these are the people who pretend they are somebody that they are not. For instance, they infest dating sites, luring unsuspecting victims and then stringing them along sometimes for years. Some of these catfish are scammers, emptying the vulnerable of their money tanks, but others for whatever reason, mostly feeling unworthy as their real selves, get caught up in the virtual reality net where they stay suspended in denial and unable to escape.
But, wait a minute. Examine your own life, yes, your life in the real world as you relate to those around you. Of course the majority of us are decent human beings; we are not “catfish”. But isn’t it true that if we were honest with ourselves, who we are, and the person we portray as ourselves to others, are often two very different people? Sometimes, we vary depending on the group we are in. To our Facebook community, we project happy and successful even when the reality of our lives may be the opposite. When we’re having a pyjama day and scoffing down the chocolate, don’t we envy those FB friends who look so together…and so stunning?
Our real life friends, family and community also put pressure on us to maintain and enhance a collective positive persona. By upholding our own pride in identity, we save the reputation of others. For example, family secrets, you know, the-skeleton-in-the-cupboard kind, remain firmly locked in the cupboard so as to prevent shame descending on the family name.
Other times we go along with the majority viewpoint because we are afraid of standing out, or being rejected if our opinions differ from others. One example that I hope is safe to share (see? I have to exercise this caution too for the benefit of other people’s identity) as it has been shared with me so often, is when students at high school or university feel they have no choice but to parrot the teacher’s views lest they fail their assignment. They may have a contrary view, but they’re afraid to publish that in case their academic career is jeopardised.
In fact, most of us conceal parts or whole chunks of who we are in order to be accepted. We want to be loved, validated and have influence in our realm. So we sacrifice our true opinions on politics, religion, culture and the list goes on. We may hide our family history or the place we grew up in. We want so much to belong we wear a mask and pretend we are someone we are not.
We are afraid if we reveal the truth of who we really are, we become vulnerable to being judged, persecuted, losing face, status and shaming our family. We are afraid of losing the life we have hoped for and our dreams broken. Yes, being true to who we are does carry that risk. When years ago I revealed to a friend who I’d vote for in an up-coming election, my friend took my views personally and said I was destroying our country’s future, not to mention their spouse’s future. I learnt not to discuss politics with certain friends.
But being honest and authentic can have benefits. For a start, wearing a mask takes a great deal of energy. Isn’t it interesting that the people we like to be around are the ones who accept us for who we are, and we feel safe to share whatever with them without being judged? We relax. And the people we (well, I know I do) consider fascinating and admire are the ones who are their true selves and who share with us in an authentic way. When we reveal our true identities, perhaps through stories, perhaps with a friend over coffee, we have the opportunity to bless and help others grow into the person God has created them to be. They may even be encouraged to be bold, drop their mask and be real too.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016