Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

I celebrated Valentine’s Day in the middle of a several-hundred-person pillow fight. It was amazing and beautiful and a great outlet for the anti-consumerist singledom disdain I carry for that day. Throughout the battle, I kept my glasses safely in a case in my pocket and lunged face-first at the whump-thwumpers.

Eventually, my neck got tired of being pummelled, and I stepped out of the fray to pick feathers out of my teeth and shirt. I put my glasses back on to get my bearings just before WHACK!, they were smashed off my face by an errant pillowfighter and buried under a groundcover of feathers. Panicked, I grabbed the five closest bystanders and had them hunt for me. One very well-meaning man found my beloved glasses. After he stepped on them.

Once upon a time, I used to wear contacts every day. I took this as a sign that maybe it was time to go back to them, and I carted myself to Lenscrafters the next day to get sized up for them. After a day of dilation-induced disorientation, I was home again. Contacts! Peripheral vision! Freedom!

naked1.jpgBut one major thing has changed since I was a daily contacts wearer: I no longer have hair. So, despite the fact that the contacts feel completely and utterly freeing, I was weirdly disturbed when I looked in the mirror. On days when I don’t wear makeup (which is about 50% of the time), I now look… really naked!

It’s jarring how much comfort we find in having some sort of shield between us and the world. Bangs to hide our worry wrinkles and long hair to curtain our cheeks. Foundation to hide our blushing. Shades to hide our tears. We paint dark lines along the edges of our eyes to remind people to see us directly, and then we shield them with lenses and frame them with angles and curves — thick and thin — to change the shapes of our faces.

When I make all that go away, I look uncomfortable. I look vulnerable. I look scared.


So it was back to Lenscrafters today, urgently looking for face jewelry. Give me something that will dress me up when I don’t have the motivation to do anything more than put on my glasses. Make me safe again. I’ve got the contacts — I know how to look like myself. Now give me something else!

I went for bigger. I went for quirkier. I went for something that would announce a confident style without any extra input from me.

And I got them.

And they feel weird.

But now I’m safe again. And now can go back to putting effort into appearing transparent. Whew.


(pillowfight photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid )

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Emma McCreary of Joy Ninja took my Elisa Camahort Page-inspired Venn Diagram about authenticity and transparency and made it more useful:


(She’s also the one who pointed out that authenticity is a need and transparency is a strategy. I agree — when you boil it down to needs and strategies, this all makes a whole lot more sense.)

Emma redirects this conversation back to the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC):

‘When we can all let each other make our own choices about how we get our needs met, whether the need is for authenticity or privacy or something else, then we’ll stop arguing about the “proper” or “right” way to be doing things, and we’ll all get along better.

‘This is why I love NVC: you see someone’s strategy, and if it bothers you, you then become curious and guess what need they are meeting. Something like this, “OH, so when you choose to not be transparent, you are meeting your need for privacy?”. Then you get to have a conversation where you are curious about where the other person is at and why they are doing what they are doing. Bingo, authentic connection.’

I love it! Thank you, Emma.

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Last weekend I twittered, “I wanna see a Venn Diagram that shows the differences and overlaps between ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’.”

The thought immediately attracted conflicting (yet brilliant) definitions of the terms.

“‘authenticity’ is about relevance, ‘transparency’ is about defensiveness. the overlap is accidental and uncorrelated.”
— Jenka Gurfinkel, social-creature

“authenticity = what is alive in me, transparency = a conscious choice to disclose that b/c I want to live in that kind of world.”
— Emma McCreary, joy ninja

Understandably confused, I started asking around for more thoughts on the matter. Here are some of the responses that came in…

“I don’t think authenticity means anything more than what is real and true. And I agree that transparency is about how much of what is authentic you choose to give those outside the window in to see. No one said it had to be 100%, by the way. You have choice. That choice is the overlap.”
– Elisa Camahort Page, Worker Bees Blog

Aha! The Venn Diagram!


Beth Kanter continued the conversation over at BlogHer and her own blog, relating the concepts to the nonprofit sector and pulling in some great comments. She also dug up the wikipedia definitions:

  • Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.
  • Tranparency means open, frank or candid.

Mark Resch took the business angle: “authentic means authored by who you think made the thing in question. transparent means that the author made it so that you (or anyone) can see how the relevant parts work—especially the important inputs and outputs.

Meanwhile, another tech industry thinker (who in a completely relevant way asked to remain anonymous) said, “Not being 100% open about everything I know in my professional technical field actually makes me trusted. If people know they can go to you and share information that is yet to be made public and know you are not going to share…. well this makes you trusted. So ‘radical’ transparency is actually not ‘good’ for building trust and relationships. Authenticity is more about how you are sharing and is it ‘true’ and real for you in relationship to others.”

My friend Koan added some pithy thoughts to the pile: “Authentic is what I say about who and what I am – transparent is being open about why I’m saying it. Authenticity is walking the talk – transparency is talking the walk.”

And then Emma threw in another quick summary: “Authenticity is a need — transparency is a strategy. Thus transparency can meet a lot of different needs for different people, authenticity is just one of them.”

George Kelly of allaboutgeorge went for the meat of the definition. “Transparency is an internal choice projected externally, how one acts based on how one desires to live. It’s demonstrated and performed by one person or entity for an other (or others). Authenticity is a valuation, a label, about one’s essential nature, from the outside-in. It accrues to a person or entity and is attached by others (or an other).”

Amy Gahran of Contentious.com put it all into straightforward terms: “I think of “transparency” mainly in terms of disclosure — opening up your process of creation or exploration to examination — not simply selectively displaying the finished, polished product. I think of “authenticity” in terms of being honest (true to yourself and others) about who you are, the role you’re playing in a given context, and your values and identity. This is more of an internal mindset that influences what you end up creating, saying, or doing online or in the real world — whereas transparency is more of an external practice.”

But what about where the green part of the diagram? Whitney Moses tackled that one: “If your true self is very private, then over sharing wouldn’t be very authentic, but it could be transparent. Everyone can tell they’re inauthentic when they’re trying to put up a good front.”

Finally, Melinda Klayman boiled it down to the point: “Authenticity is about meaning what you say. Transparency is about saying what you mean.”

Thank you all for your brilliant thoughts.  I think I get it now.