Empathetic – showing empathy or ready comprehension of others’ states.
– The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
I’ve been thinking some about perspective as it relates to blogging and the blogosphere, in the wake of my Guy Kawasaki post and the resulting discussion in the comments.
One of the things that sometimes discourages me about the blogosphere is the way bloggers talk at, and not to, each other. It sometimes seems like a room full of people talking to themselves in louder and louder voices. Once in a while a few of them randomly happen to be talking about the same thing and what appears to be a conversation transpires. Before long, however, the wave of faux conversation recedes back into the ocean of intrapersonal communication.
It’s an inefficient process, at best. Driven, at least in part, by the egocentric perspective of thousands of generally remote and often anonymous bloggers. In this case, when I say egocentric I am using the “viewed or perceived from one’s own mind as a center” definition, and not necessarily the “caring only about oneself” definition.
Upon reflection, I have been as guilty of this as (almost) anyone. I blog because I like to write, and because I want to participate in conversations about topics that interest me. It’s easy to assume that others share – or should share- my purposes. When I try unsuccessfully to engage others in conversation, it’s easy to assume that my failure results from their unfairness, or the fact that I am on the outside of the mythical gate. To get too caught up in that is to undertake the fool’s errand of trying to change those you don’t know, you can’t reach, and who don’t want to be changed. And who as Hugh MacLeod points out in a comment here, may not need to change.
This epiphany occurred to me as I drove under a bridge on the way home from work the other day and saw a lone man on the bridge holding up a one-word sign that said “Impeach.” In wondering what he really hoped to achieve by standing out there with that sign, I began to wonder what I hoped to achieve by holding up a post that says “Talk to Me” while the Scobles, Rubels, Wilsons, etc. hurry by on their way home.
Later that same day, I saw a post by Om Malik about some items he hoped to buy at some point. I started thinking about Om. Not in an egocentric “I wish he linked here more” way, but just about him as a person. I thought about how many of his posts I have read and enjoyed over the years. I thought about the fact that blogging is his job, and about how stressful jobs can be. I thought about the fact that I have never once clicked on an online ad on any blog. Then I bought him a CD at Amazon and had it shipped it to him semi-anonymously. Just because I felt the need to show my appreciation. Just because it felt right and good.
It felt even better when I saw that it brightened his day. Whatever Om got out of it, I promise you I got more.
Today, I saw this post by Ayelet over at Blonde 2.0. She talks about the borders between our personal and private lives, and the beauty of presenting ourselves to the world- as we are, without the need to treat our online presence as some sort of living billboard. In other words, to be people. And to treat each other as people. Not avatars, and not as some dehumanized screen name. I like everything she said in that post, but this passage really summed it up for me:
[D]on’t be afraid to show the world who you are. Not just the you during office hours, but the whole you. If a company doesn’t want to hire you based on that, you’re probably better off without them.
My favorite blogs are the ones who show the entire person. Blogs like Rob Barron‘s, that have made me cry at times and smile at other times. Like OmegaMom‘s, which makes me wish that her daughter and Delaney could be friends. Like John Watson, who finds philosophy in conversations with his kids. Lynnster, whose musical education closely mirrors mine. The list goes on and on- and it will.
People from my work life have discovered my blog. I knew it would happen when I started doing it. It’s always a little scary to put yourself out there. But as Ayelet says, we are who we are, and there is freedom and efficiency in just letting down your guard and trusting yourself. Who we really are is the best resume of all. Other than a few well-meaning jokes about my little online journal, I have never once had a negative reaction to my blog. And I have had more than a few people tell me that it makes them more comfortable to see who I am away from work.
We can’t change the blogosphere, and we can’t make others embrace our blogging philosophy. What we can do is try to see things from other points of view.
That’s what I’m going to do.