Peter Kowalke

Talking Openly is Getting Hard

By on August 25, 2020

How open should I be?

I’m famously open-minded, and I’ve always felt that one of my strengths is the ability to be completely honest with myself. This openness and honesty is a superpower that gives me great self-awareness and rapid personal growth.

One downside of this honesty is my struggle with knowing how much to share with others, though. Because I’m so open-minded and honest with myself, the chances of me exceeding the other person’s boundary of acceptable thought is high—I have no mental taboos. So the line is different for each person, but in the back of my mind I know the line is there somewhere; with each people interaction, a part of me is gauging what I’m allowed to say and what is forbidden to think or feel.

This lifelong challenge has never been more pronounced than it is today. Right or wrong, the world is moving in the direction of thought police and limited free speech. I literally live in a country where there are certain comments that could land me in prison, and I interact regularly with some of the most repressive places on the globe. But even in hitherto free-speech zones such as the United States and Europe, increasingly there are things that cannot be said and shouldn’t even be thought. Some of these limitations come from heightened sensitivities, others from trolls and hyper-partisanship.

So I always have been worried about what I’m allowed to say, and this fear is getting more pronounced as the bounds of acceptability tighten further.

Okay, keep your mouth shut. That’s one option my friends who work at Google and Microsoft often take, for instance. Don’t share certain things, and stay blandly neutral.

This isn’t a viable strategy for me, however. That’s because when we stop sharing a part of ourselves, we cut down on the connection and understanding with the other person. We become a little less known, a little less understood, a little less connected to them. As someone who makes connection a high priority, I feel the loss acutely.

I also have the extra issue of actually needing to share indiscriminately so I can stay in contact with people, which limits the scope for me keeping my mouth shut. If I don’t send updates and keep a personal blog, people don’t know me because I travel and my friends are all over the world; almost nobody gets enough touch points with me in person. This requires sharing myself somewhat indiscriminately, which creates even more room for saying too much.

As a result, I’m not sure where I should draw the line anymore. And it is a huge issue for me.

A few years ago I thought I knew the line, and I should just “be me” and suffer through a little censure. But now with polarization, thought police and actual limits on what I can say in some jurisdictions, I’m unsure.

How much of myself can I safely share? How do I handle this current environment where we truly no longer have freedom of speech? How do YOU handle it? Let me know by emailing me. This is a tough subject, and I’d love your help.

Peter watching a movie

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