"I think, therefore, I am," but that doesn't mean that in order to know who I am you have to know my every thought. Do the girls in the next cubicle want a constant stream of consciousness narrative of my day? Of course not. Do the people who come over to watch movies or play games want to know every single detail of my sex life? Not really. Does my husband want to know every time an ugly thought pops into my head when I'm driving in heavy traffic? Why should he?
Part of the social contract is that we share our thoughts with others. It's a necessary component of forming the communal whole. However, another part is that we get to keep a part of ourselves to ourselves. We are each allowed private thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, loves, and hates. We are allowed to shape how we present ourselves to others.
Having multiple personas is just a part of navigating society. There is the "work-me" who stays calm under pressure and never, ever discusses religion. There are people I have worked with for over seven years who would be willing to swear that I don't have a temper.
But, ask my husband - or siblings - who know the "family-me" and they'll tell you that I can explode to the point of throwing things if my buttons get pushed just right. Is the calm demeanor a lie? Is the tantrum thrower the real me?
There is the "4-H-me" that I developed as a youth when I rose through the ranks in the state program. She can stand up and give a speech with minimal preparation. She doesn't mind meeting new people and can step forward and take a leadership position at a moment's notice.
But, then there are times that the thought of putting myself out there and doing something in public can induce fear almost to the point of paralysis. This person is the one who's so capable of not drawing attention to herself that she has literally not been seen when she's in the room.
It's too easy to say that some of these personas are "real" and some are "false." Every one of us is a bundle of contradictions. We choose - sometimes consciously, sometimes not - to present certain parts of ourselves to different audiences. Part of that is choosing what thoughts, hopes, dreams, etc you will share and which ones you will keep private.
I have absolutely no shame or discomfort with my personal religious beliefs, but does that mean that I need to bring them up with a co-worker simply to point out that I believe differently? I can't change his beliefs; he can't change mine; why would I want to create conflict and discomfort for no purpose?
My political beliefs have changed and developed as I've lived my life. I'm sure I don't agree completely with my Mom anymore (if I ever did), but I don't see any reason to sit down and compare philosophies with her. Our relationship isn't built on politics. I know generally what she believes. I'm sure she knows my leanings. Let's talk about things that matter to our bond.
This ability to present different sides of myself to different audiences is a skill I've been developing all my life. It would not shock anyone I know to learn that there are things I say to some people that I don't say to others. If they thought about it at all, it would be considered normal, perhaps even well mannered.
Then I started an online journal, and I am presented with the theory that if there are things that I choose not to write about I am somehow being intellectually dishonest. What's so special about the social bonds with an online community that I should lose the ability to present the persona I want?
Even those who would claim that they "put it all out there" and they "don't care what people think" are carefully constructing the persona they put on their journals. They choose which outrageous stands to push and which private details to publish.
I have an LJ-persona that develops with every post I make. Originally, I spoke freely about my family by name, because I was just using the journal to keep my brother and a few friends updated on my life. Then, as new people starting paying attention to what I was saying, I substituted aliases - having never forgotten the slight spooky shiver I got when I realized a total stranger in Australia had made the effort to get a fan letter to my husband (it was mostly cool, but still....).
As I build and develop this persona, I am always aware that there are people out there reading my entries - just as I am aware that the someone in the office might hear what I say when I talk to my husband on the phone. But, while it may make me moderate some of my statements - do I really want to share that with anyone right now? - I do not tailor for the audience.
In order for the persona to be a true reflection of a part of me, I need to be honest. I say what I want to say, when I want to say it. If my friends want to read it, they will. If they don't want to read it, they won't. If they decide that the person they are seeing develop isn't someone they want to hear from anymore, then they are free to stop being friends.
The Internet has the uncanny ability to foster both intimacy and anonymity simultaneously. In this atmosphere, the only way to find a real connection is by being honest. The secret is to remember that sometimes the most personally honest thing to say is nothing at all.