When Transparency and Authenticity become TMI! –

I Wish You Hadn’t Told Me That!

“I really liked your transparency in the sharing of your story.”

I appreciated the compliment. I had just finished sharing my presentation of “Go Ask Your Mother… A Father’s Story.”  In the presentation I share some of my personal struggles as a father in raising my three boys, as well as some reflections on my own father.

The compliment affirmed my goal and belief that telling honest stories based on real life experience would connect and communicate with my audience. Yes, I had been transparent… up to a point… but I didn’t really tell the whole story. There were parts that I purposely didn’t share. Parts that I held back because I didn’t want the whole truth about me to be revealed. Parts that I felt would have been TMI–too much information!

When sharing about my Dad, I didn’t share the details of the angry thoughts I had when I felt he was being too hard on me.

When sharing about my sons, I didn’t share about the times my temper got the best of me and I said some things I regret and came close to striking them in anger.

There were thoughts and actions in some of those stories that I left out because to reveal them could have caused my audience to turn against me… to not like me. I am all for honesty and transparency until it goes to a place that is too dark and makes me look bad. Especially if the story doesn’t redeem those thoughts and actions.

Is it possible to be too honest? Too transparent? Where does one draw the line?

Have you ever been watching a good movie and then have to turn your head away in disgust because the images on the screen were too disturbing? It’s a good story but why did the have to show that?! Sometimes the details of our stories can have that same effect on our audience.

I remember a sermon where the pastor shared some of his personal story. It was great up until he shared some of his thoughts that went a little too far. As we left the church my wife said “I wish I hadn’t heard that part.” The part he shared was a little too dark and now her feelings about that pastor will be forever changed because he shared too much information. It would have been fine if he had alluded to his dark thoughts, but in sharing them in detail, he crossed a boundary. He created a distraction that caused some in the audience to miss the point of the story.

Who among us hasn’t had those dark thoughts? Who among us hasn’t done things we regret? It’s part of being human. We get angry, we get greedy, we get tempted, we lust, we sin.  When it comes to casting the first stone, I would be one of the first to walk away.

It is good to share some of these stories with others. Some of my favorite stories are stories where the teller reveals their humanity, their weakness, their faults. It is what makes it relatable. I identify and it feels good to know that I am not alone. It helps me to realize that I’m not the only one who struggles, who fails, and who gets back up again after being knocked down.

But sometimes in the public telling we can go too far.

Authenticity is a cherished virtue in our culture today. Look at reality TV, the Internet and social media. We have a constant stream of “reality” hitting us from every angle. Sometimes this can be a good thing. But it can also distract us from the main point. Like watching that gory scene in the movie it’s TMI! Too much information!

Some stories are best served with some details left out. They are better for confessing to a close friend, a doctor… or to God. You don’t want your audience to walk away with things they can’t un-see or un-hear!

Too Much Information!

I confess… I do enjoy reality television.  There is something about seeing the unrehearsed, unplanned and spontaneous responses of people that makes for some great entertainment. I am a big fan of Survivor, American Idol and The Apprentice. And I am not naive. I also know that with most of these shows, others are filtering, manipulating and editing what we, the viewing audience, see.

It makes me wonder what goes on in the minds of some people, especially celebrities, when they choose to go on some of these shows.  Some have clearly not done their image any favors.  I never really knew all that much about Dionne Warwick, apart from her music, until watching Celebrity Apprentice.  After watching her on this show I have to say I am less of a fan.  She is a difficult person with a massive ego, which shouldn’t surprise me, but maybe ignorance is bliss… I don’t think I can listen to her music without recalling some of the unpleasantness she exuded on the TV show.  Then there is Academy Award winner, Marlee Matlin. She is doing a good job on Celebrity Apprentice and I have always liked her… until the other day… I was switching channels and came across Comedy Central’s Roast of Donald Trump. Back in the day of Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, the Celebrity Roast was entertaining and good natured teasing… now it has denigrated into nothing but obscene sexual humor and crude insults.  And there was Marlee Matlin stooping to the level of the other most obscene entertainers that Hollywood has to offer.  I am no longer a fan. It has happened for me over and over again when celebrities and other public figures reveal too much about themselves, crossing the line and giving me too much information! TMI!

Authenticity has become a prized value in our culture and in the church.  We like to know that people are real… that what you see is what you get.  We value transparency from our leaders, our pastors, our entertainers… to a point.  Yet even with authenticity I think we need to set boundaries.  Even in the closest of families I think we all know there are areas in life that need privacy. My kids know that in order for them to have been born my wife and I had to have had sex… yet if it is ever alluded to in front of our kids, there is a look of revulsion  on their faces—“TMI” they shout.  I like it when pastors will share a personal story from their life during a sermon. It helps to remind us that they are human and we can all relate to the message better when we see that example.  But it is risky. Too much detail and I might lose respect for the pastor.  If the pastor confesses that he was angry at his wife and said some unkind things… I can accept that.  If he actually tells me some of the words he used I might shout “TMI.”

Jesus was God and yet also fully human. We have great examples of his humanity in scripture, but we don’t need to know every little example of his humanity; his hygiene, bodily functions, his every temptation, in order to understand and accept that he was who he said he was.  It is possible that even with Jesus we would shout “TMI!”

My newest presentation, Truth Be Told… from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up,  is perhaps the most honest and authentic of all my shows. The stories are true stories from my own life.  It is my hope that it will encourage and inspire people as they look at their own stories.  I share some reality from my own life, and include information about my wife, my kids, and my parents… but hopefully never to the point where any of them or the audience will cry out “TMI.”  Sometimes a little restraint is called for… and I certainly have some stories I don’t want anybody to hear!

What about you? Where do you draw the line between authentic sharing, and too much information?

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