Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Real Me

Back near the dawn of the 21st Century, when my home computer finally had the miracle of a dial-up modem connection that attached me to the Wonderful Wide Web, I discovered the brave new world known as Yahoo Chat Rooms.

This was, in my mind, fortuitous timing, as I was becoming more and more home-bound due to some pretty darn severe physical limitations (and, arguably, some pretty darn severe mental limitations, as well). I found myself frequenting one particular chat room more than others, a chat room that, if you found yourself there, you would agree had a life all its own. It was affectionately nicknamed “CC1,” and it became my home within my home. I found it as intellectually stimulating as a philosophy class at university, as diverse as the United Nations, as heart-warming as the friendliest social club, as crazy as the psychiatric ward, and as maddeningly aggravating as any dinner-table conversation in my own house (translation: lively, combative, over-the-top, funny as hell, and disturbing as heaven). I was in love.

Now, I can only speak for myself, but this is what happened when I found this on-line life: I created a persona that allowed me to be as freely Me as I chose to be. But unfortunately, I chose to hide one very important part of myself—my physical appearance. In retrospect, I believe this is because I was at my worst physically, and I was ashamed. I didn’t want the people with whom I interacted to belittle me or judge me based on my appearance. So, I did what only the anonymity of the Internet can do—I chose to use a profile picture that was not of me. For the most part, I presented honestly. After all, the computer gave a pretty safe boundary for everyone to share their (strong) thoughts, opinions, emotions, and ideas. I found myself arguing, debating, teasing, taunting, and flirting with the best of them. I also had some intense heart-to-heart conversations in “PM” (Private Message), but for awhile, even those relationships did not bring me to reveal the true nature of how I looked.

Me, on my 30th birthday (2002)
That all started to change, though. Why? Well, simply put, because I started to actually like these people. Many of them were now FRIENDS. I don’t like the terms “real-life friend” and “online friend,” because Online, in this world we live in, is just as real (potentially, at any rate) as Offline. The line was blurring, and I didn’t want to hide who I was from these friends. So, I came out, you might call it. I slowly began having private conversations with my friends, revealing my real face to them. They already knew me (it took some convincing for some, who felt betrayed by the lie of my profile picture—understandably), but eventually, I was boldly displaying an actual picture of actual me, and miracle of miracles—no one ran away! I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the Haters used it against me. People I debated in CC1 who didn’t know me personally would respond to my sometimes belligerent attitude by resorting to name-calling. But I took it with a grain of salt. After all, that’s all they had going for them; I was smarter, and they couldn’t beat me intellectually, so therefore they would just call me a “fat bitch” and hit the IGNORE button on their monitors.

I am happy to say that, because I owned up to my real self, I became free to actually meet several of these friends. Doing a quick count in my head, I would say I’ve probably met “in real life” about two dozen “online friends,” and I hope to keep upping that number, because these people are FABULOUS.

I stopped going into Yahoo Chat around 2006, mostly because my daily life had grown busy with activities that didn’t involve being around a computer. Also, this was before everyone had the Internet in the palm of their hand, and it was before FaceBook had really taken off.

When I joined FaceBook in 2007 and started building up my Friends list, I found (or was found by) friends from as far back as Kindergarten, people I hadn’t seen or talked to for decades. I found (or was found by) friends from the old CC1 Yahoo Chat Room. I found (or was found by) friends I’d met at the bar the week or month before, friends I saw every day at work, friends I emailed regularly or saw at every party. If you’re reading this, you probably know how FaceBook works, so I won’t elaborate too much on that. To sum up: it was a huge reunion, a clashing of worlds, and frankly, a bit daunting.

I hadn’t really thought much about how my worldview had changed since I started “hanging out” online, but a conversation on FaceBook a couple of weeks ago brought it into clear focus for me.

Confronted with a subject that was bound to bring up differing viewpoints, some of my friends from different worlds ended up discussing these viewpoints on my FaceBook page. Let me make it clear: I have no problem with clashing viewpoints. I cherish open forums for opinions, intellectual conversation, and even heated debate. What brought me home to what I’m thinking about right now, though, is this: the one thing that has dramatically changed for me in the last 15 or so years is that I now value kindness more than I value winning.

I’m not condemning anyone who will debate, discuss, disassemble, and dissect until there is a clear victor—if that’s what someone wants to do, that is absolutely within their rights. But a friend of mine called me out on it, right there on my FaceBook page. He said, in part, “….if you didn't agree with my sentiment then i would know you're not literate in critical thinking. and since i know your literacy personally, i am going to say you agree with me, whether you voice it or not. critically sharp individuals have extreme issues with people misrepresenting themselves and others. we have issues with willful and blatant ignorance, rampant stupidity and a love affair with apathy. knowing me as long as you have, did you really expect me to respond in a loving and caring way to a display of the aforementioned attributes?” [sic]

To be fair, I was trying to settle the conversation down. I didn’t want to edit anyone, but I also didn’t want to offend anyone. What it came down to, really, was my having to take a good hard look at what he said, because he was right. I actually agreed with what he was saying, I just did not like the parts that included name-calling, and that’s what I mean by my valuing kindness over winning. I responded to him with this: “I didn't expect or not expect anything. I refuse to censor people, which is why it's fine that everyone here is saying what they're saying. And you're right, respect is earned, but my personal opinion is that kindness should be the first response, if among friends. I know [they] are not your friends--they're mine--and so are YOU--so my hesitation is because I value each of you. You aren't under any obligation to do so, and I'm not reprimanding anyone, not in a "shame on you" way, at any rate. / Please, feel free to continue.”

I have not stopped thinking about this.

Where I once boldly shared my opinions, thoughts, and feelings without apology, I now keep my mouth shut. And yet, perhaps ironically, here I am writing on a blog I call “Confessions of a StuntGirl,” because I believe in airing my truth. So is this a contradiction? Am I talking out of both sides of my neck?

I’ve thought a long time about that question.

I don’t think I am.

I think that there is a place for diplomacy. It’s not for everyone. Some people are put on this earth to proclaim from the rooftops exactly what they see, and popularity, hurt feelings, and political correctness be damned. And that is okay. I also think that my Way is to be diplomatic. For clarity, the definition of diplomacy is this: tact. It’s just what works for me.

Me, on my 38th birthday (2010)
To bring this post full circle (I hope), here’s the connect: I have found that the more I desire to be seen for who I truly am, the more willing I am to offer up equal parts of intellect, honesty, and kindness. I don’t want to be seen as only smart (proud); I don’t want to be seen as only kind (doormat). I want to be both. That’s MY truth. That’s being fully who I truly am.

It’s a picture of the real me.