Last night Rich and I were sitting on the couch reading through comments and messages left on Facebook after we announced our recent marriage and he asked me, “Do you think social media has made situations like ours more difficult?”
And honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that.
In some ways, it’s far more difficult. Those who are angry have the ability to spew anger far more easily and quickly than ever before, with the added benefit that they don’t have to say these things to our face. We can show our disapproval of people who have hurt us by unfriending, even if we weren’t really friends with them in the first place. With little effort, we can bring shame and condemnation on people who are in the wrong.
But there are also ways that it’s better. You can find support from unlikely sources, words that can buoy you in the midst of pain. You can more easily and discretely connect with people who have been through circumstances similar to your own. I have had friendships rekindle because they read a status update or tweet that made them remember friendship past.
So it’s a mixed bag.
But it’s far more simple for me to remember only the ways that web connectedness has hurt than it is to remember the ways that it heals. And because of that, it’s easy for me to want to hide my true feelings in my writing.
I’ve written before that I’m a little bit wary of the idea of writing nakedly. I don’t think that everything that happens gets to be broadcast for the wide world. There are stories from the last seven months that will never show up anywhere in public. I am completely at ease with this choice.
But I said then that I would never be ashamed in my writing, and that is not been the case lately. I have started to write honest reactions to some of the events that have happened, and have stopped, worried that I might be bringing more condemnation down on me, more condemnation down on Rich. I write and then edit out everything that has any bite, anything that could be turned back around on my own situation. I’ve been writing apologetically, timidly.
I have struggled in the past with determining what stories are mine and what stories belong to others, but that has intensified in the past months. Now, in addition to that, I feel torn between two seemingly beneficial, yet contradictory pieces of advice. There’s the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” And then there’s Anne Lamott who says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I was speaking with a friend about this last week when she gently asked what I was trying to do with my writing now. She texted, “Honesty and niceness are tough things to choose between, particularly in a situation like yours. But at some point, a decision to be nice or be honest turns into a life of being nice or being honest, and while I’d hate to see you lose one or the other, I think that choosing the one can make you lose friends…choosing the other can make you lose you.”
Her words have been playing over in my mind. I want to write kindly and honestly, but I feel like I’ve been doing neither. I have anger and hurt that I’m not addressing because I want to be nice, but of course that spills into my writing, so I’m not all that nice. But my desire to be nice, to edit out the really mean parts of what I want to say, leaves me being less that honest with you, and ultimately with me.
Am I writing just for the sake of getting words out? Or am I trying to actually say something that matters to me? Am I going to tiptoe around my story, or am I going to tell it, even if it makes people angry? Am I going to focus only on the negative possibilities of living a more connected life or am I going to recognize that there is life to be gained by being honest, that there is freedom to be found in the truth?
I want to get back to writing without shame. I want to own all of my story, not just the parts that portray the correct amount of contrition or humility. I want to tell the angry parts, the happy parts, the grieving parts. Some of those parts might not seem nice, but they’ll be honest. And I think as I grow in one area, I will see growth in the other as well. I may not be able to completely find a balance between nice and honest, but I can try to shed the coat of shame that I’ve put on.