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The Fear of Being Understood

Twitter lost one of its most popular citizens last week as Alec Baldwin deleted his account after yet another 140 character rampage. I do not care at all about a social media tennis match between a reporter and an actor. It is an example though of a scenario that I hope will not lead to the demise of Twitter as a useful tool. I worry that all of the interesting people eventually leave because of a fear of being understood.

You read that correctly. I said understood.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant is quoted as saying

There are many things I believe that I will not say but I will never say what I don’t believe.

This idea is at the heart of it. Twitter affords us the unique opportunity to connect globally with casual messaging and glimpses into our lives and interests. The immediacy and short digestable format draws out our fleeting thoughts. Those that in another time would be left unsaid. But given a path, our true self finds a way to express its inner most ideas both good and bad.

It requires discipline to control. We often jokingly refer to our verbal filter that keeps us from uttering every thought that comes to mind. Twitter erodes that filter’s effectiveness. It is just so easy to get a cathartic release by venting one’s frustration over traffic, family, government or the universe to the internet.

There is one major difference. I will forget my momentary frustration but the internet is forever and holds us accountable at the most in opportune times.

The irony that I will promote this blog on Twitter is not lost on me. My concern is that at some point political correctness driven self-editing will force meaningful thought, opinion and discussion from the platform. I am not predicting the death of Twitter. It will just become too boring to bother with.

I don’t mean to suggest that Alec Baldwin is particularly meaningful but he is interesting. His greatest fear and what I believe drove the deletion of the account is that the persona that keeps him employed will be destroyed if people really understand what he thinks and Twitter makes it too easy to ruin his career.

This is true on all ends of the political spectrum. Imagine an up and coming manager in a major corporation who might never see another promotion if they tweet their opinion on same sex marriage and it runs contrary to what leadership thinks. Once recorded in an HR file, that employee’s opportunity for advancement is over, regardless of whether or not they conduct business in a fair, just and legal manner.

Freedom of speech does not grant freedom from consequence.

Just imagine the legacy of things better left unsaid had Twitter been around during the civil rights movement. Congress for one would have had a very different composition in the last forty years.

As Kant mused, everything that is said reveals something of the inner self. We simply do not give voice to what we do not believe. Every word helps us understand you for better or worse.

This is the power of the connection Twitter affords. I hope as a society we can learn to manage this power and still remain interesting and vulnerable. Perhaps the best way to overcome our fear of being understood is to work on character first and Twitter becomes a reflection of it.

Said another way  by someone far more authoritative than Kant,

“out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45

Or in a modern translation – “what he thinks he tweets.”

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