Jesus spoke first to his disciples. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees,” he said. “They just pretend to be godly. Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.” —Luke 12:1-3
Be impeccable with your word. –Don Miguel Ruiz
Once upon a time, before the internet was born, before it was an integral part of our lives, we allowed ourselves the illusion of privacy. We knew how to negotiate conversational contexts, speaking openly among trusted friends, more guardedly among strangers and acquaintances, and even more carefully in the presence of a gossip with loose lips. Those of us who lived in crowded urban and suburban settings, where we agreed to ignore each other, felt comfortable slipping through life unseen.
The internet changes all that. Interacting online is like living in a small town, where everyone knows each other and anonymity is impossible. When you go to the store in your pajamas at 1 a.m., desperately seeking Nyquil, you will encounter at least one person who knows you.
A blog is not a private diary, even if the blogger does not share her name. Facebook conversations squeak through the tightest of security settings. Email can be forwarded indiscriminately. And the combination of ubiquitous cameras and YouTube ensures that if you ever use a racial slur and then try to run for office, you will be found out.
This can be deeply unsettling. It was for me, as a young minister from New Jersey, working in a small town in Ohio, when I encountered a parishioner at 1 a.m. in the Chief grocery store. I never did get used to the feeling of always being “on,” of always having to be my best self, of being a professional holy person. On days off, I fled to the relative anonymity of Toledo or Fort Wayne.
Some people feel that the internet is just too dangerous, too invasive, and choose not to use it. Others interact online, but very carefully, with strict privacy settings, erecting high walls between various segments of their lives.
I’m careful about what I share online, but I’ve also come to realize that the internet offers me the opportunity to be my best self. It helps me to think twice before I make a catty comment on Facebook, or forward something political that might not be in the best interest of my relationship with those who receive it. If I slip up, and say something hurtful, feedback is usually swift, and anyone who has ever trained a dog knows that timing is crucial in teaching a new behavior.
Everything secret will be brought out into the open. Be impeccable with your word. Be your best self, live with integrity, and let it go.