Being known is a whole lot different than being heard. It’s the most difficult disrobing of all. Think of Madonna or Helen Mirren, naked or next-to-naked on film for all the world to look at. How do they keep their composure? Their faces? How can they bear to be so seen and so known? If you asked them, I think they’d say something simple like, “When you know yourself, you can expose yourself.” Isn’t that the truth! But getting there, that’s the trick.
If you’re thinking about writing of any sort – a work email, a novel, a letter to your mom – you begin by knowing where you are. Which means knowing some critical things about yourself:
- What are your biases or judgments? Can you set them aside? If not, you’ll need to deal with them in what you write.
- What is it you really want to say? Or – looked at another way – what is it about yourself you want your readers to know? That you’re sorry? That you’re committed? That you’re worried or vulnerable? That the product you’re writing about is the best thing on the market?
These are difficult questions to answer because no answer is clean. In all but the most mundane situations, there is some drama or humor or tension. Who said exactly what to whom? Did so-and-so look better than someone else on a certain evening? Is it really a good idea to lay off 1200 people? What did you feel when your own eye wandered?
Being heard depends on being known: being known first to yourself and then being known – exposed – to your readers. I don’t mean to imply that this is always an act of exposing yourself to the core … in most of her photos, Helen Mirren is wearing clothes! What I’m saying is there are few things more gratifying than explaining something you believe is important in a way that others understand perfectly, precisely, perhaps even compassionately. That always requires exposure and honesty. It requires courage.