On a Screen, Dimly

I really wanted to get this up three weeks ago but, well, life intervened, as it does. This spring is rich and full and involves lots of deadlines and commuting and similar externalities.

Public, Private, Professional, Personal- Part Three

Previous segments: Part 1 and Part 2

Square divided into quadrants: top left (purple) Public and professional; top right (orange), Private and Professional; bottom left (green), Public and personal; bottom right (yellow), private and personal.

This model is a way to visualize the understanding that some pieces of our personal lives can be public – or, to put it another way, that some parts of our public lives can be personal. Not only is it inevitable for many of us, but it’s important. Our public personal selves add realness – even authenticity: a little bit of quirk or grit or color to an otherwise bland, tepid professional image. All work and no play, as the saying goes, makes Jack – or Jo – dull and lifeless. A touch of the personal, where the world can see it, makes our public selves human.

But that’s not all.

 

Imagine intentionally adjusting those boundaries, deciding which parts of our lives fall where. The divisions don’t have to be the same size or shape. Consider a life that has little on the professional and public sides of their respective boundaries – a young child, for instance, who has no professional life yet. And since many parents are increasingly cautious about their kids’ online visibility, especially on FaceBook and other social media, this child’s public presence may also be quite limited. So in our model, that child’s “purple” and “orange” (professional, public or private) sectors would be quite small, and their “green” (public, personal) space only somewhat larger. That child’s life is mostly “yellow” (private and personal.)

Square divided into four uneven sections. Largest is yellow, labeled Private & Personal. All others are unlabeled. (Green, Purple, Orange.)

As time goes on, the dividing lines move. We appear in various public ways as our personal selves. We may eventually establish a professional presence – and it may be public or private or a bit of both. For example, when I worked for the state, my presence in the public sphere – especially with respect to politics – had to be in my personal capacity as a citizen and voter. If I spoke up in public on an issue, I was not speaking as an agent of the state. My professional status (as a low-level public servant) was largely private – out of public contact, in the back office.

Square divided into four uneven sections. Smallest, purple, labelled "Public & Professional. Next smallest, orange, labelled "Private & Professional." Second-largest, green, "Public & Personal." Largest, yellow, "Private & Personal."

Moving a bit of information, or a piece of one’s self or expression or experience, from the private realm into the public realm is generally a one-way street. Once it’s out there, it’s out there – and sooner or later, things find their way out there. The choice is about when and whether to intentionally move pieces of our selves from the private to the public sphere, to allow the personal to illuminate the professional. Is it preferable keep the tightest of boundaries always, let out only what MUST be let out, or to make of our lives an open book, keeping close only what MUST be kept close?

I don’t have one answer. I don’t think there is one single answer.

Is it risky? It sure feels that way, especially for those of us whose identities or appearance may not conform to the expectations (or deep systemic biases) built into current professional norms. I am not going to direct anyone else’s self-disclosure here. But I am working from hypothesis that whatever I have for ministry comes from the same Source as both my creative vision and my social awkwardness, my love of beauty and my despair for the broken parts of the world and of my soul. And also my sharp-edged sense of humor, hair that will not be tamed, profound self-doubt, the ability to carry a tune without a bucket, and a propensity for using words you shouldn’t say in the pulpit on Sunday morning.

It is a package deal, regardless of what it’s wrapped in. But what not to wear? That’s another sermon.


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