The things I don’t write about…

“How should a blogger talk about their friends, family, and the people they meet? What do you think? Is writing something truthful and powerful worth it, if it hurts people’s feelings?” – Drew Jacob, Hemingway’s Long Game

Probably the most frequent praise I hear for my writing is how honest and transparent I come across. I like to write about embarrassing things that happen to me, my numerous shortcomings, my income and expenditure, controversial stuff like pickup, etc.

But you should know that I’m not completely honest and transparent. I do hold back. There are things I don’t write about.

Mostly, these are things related to other people’s privacy. To steal words from Drew Jacob

“I don’t give a fuck about privacy.

I don’t mean your privacy. You won’t find me in a tree outside your window. I swear. Not that I haven’t tried.

No, I mean my privacy. I don’t care if my personal information is online. I’m pretty mystified by people who do.”

I can relate. I care little about my own privacy and it baffles me as to why so many people — often genuinely good people with nothing to hide — are fiercely protective about it.

(The best explanation I can come up with is that society is so batshit crazy and judgmental that even the best among us will be criticized for our actions, and most people would rather not endure such small-minded criticism.)

I realize though that I don’t have to understand someone’s wishes to respect them, and so I try to respect the privacy of others. As such, I have to be careful when I write about other people. I have some great stories with powerful lessons that I’d like to share here on the blog, but unless I figure out a way to write them while preserving anonymity, I’ll be holding back.

I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve inadvertently lost friends and damaged relationships on account of my writing. It’s not a nice feeling.

Truth versus loyalty. An ethical dilemma, and I find myself leaning towards the latter.

What’s your take on privacy? Why is it important to you, or not? What about respecting the privacy of others? Should truth take precedence over loyalty? Let me know via the comments.

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26 Comments

  1. I use real examples from people we know all the time. If the example isn’t flattering, I definitely won’t use names, and I might change details up a bit. People are so obtuse they don’t recognize themselves anyway. When it’s something more positive or interesting, people are happy to recognize themselves, particularly if you explain why you think their example is valuable and let their privacy wishes prevail.

  2. I write many experiences from my own life, which I intend to have published at some point. For the more revealing stories I’ll change people’s names, and perhaps even publish under a pseudonym to give that extra level of anonymity…

    1. I take care to do that, too. Where I usually get in trouble is misjudging what people will take offense to. More than once I’ve written something that I didn’t think would cause any offense, only to be proven very wrong.

  3. You know, I’m one of those people too, like Drew. I am not sure why some people don’t want to live their life out loud. Maybe that makes me a freak, I don’t know. I just know that if I live a good and honest life, why should I worry? Maybe people should start living that way, as if their lives were public.

    If I were in your shoes and waffling back and forth in indecision, I’d just ask the person. “Hey, we were talking THIS and it made me think of some things, mind if I mention you?” or just really generalize so that the person being talked about feels confident in the level of anonymity that you’ve given them. Good luck 🙂

  4. For me it’s an anxiety thing. I can’t really explain why I feel a surge of panic when I feel my privacy being violated, but that’s what happens. Which is why I decided to put my real name and my picture on my blog and act like I don’t care. I’ve been panicking less and less with practice.

  5. Privacy is not about having anything to hide. You value your privacy, even if you don’t realize it in your train of thought right now.

    When you send a letter, you send it in an envelope. Why? I thought you didn’t mind about privacy.

    In your house, you close your curtains sometimes? Why?

    When you take a shower with guests, do you close the door? And when you take a shit?

    Privacy does have it’s time, and it’s purpose, Don’t be so rash so as to judge people who want it, for perhaps it may come to be that it’s they who are the wiser. We still don’t know 🙂

    It’s all about tradeoffs, I’m sure being open has many good things too.

    I work in IT security, so privacy is a big thing for me and for the companies I work for. Privacy is your poker face.

    1. Societies differ in concerns about privacy. The Dutch, for instance, are known for not drawing the blinds or curtains in their homes.

    2. Perhaps I need a better word than “privacy” then. Because yes, I do close the curtains when I’m having sex and close the door when I’m using the bathroom, but not because I’m ashamed of what I’m doing at those moments or afraid of what people would think of me if they knew every little detail.

      I guess what bothers me is that so many people are very different in private to how they are in public. My thinking is that if you’re ashamed or afraid of something you do/say being made public, you probably shouldn’t be doing/saying it in the first place.

  6. Niall, I think you would appreciate social psychologist’s Jonathan Haidt’s work on moral psychology. According to Haidt, as a liberal (do I assume too much?), you’ve moved out of the norm to embrace another foundation of moral psychology. Kudos!

    Here’s a website with the foundations of moral psychology as stated in Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind.”
    http://moralfoundations.org/

    Here’s his TED talk on the same research.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

  7. I know what you’re talking about… I really don’t care about my privacy. And if there’s things I prefer to do in private, it’s because I believe people wouldn’t understand.

    That being said, I think people who are concerned about too much about their privacy, is because deep down they’re not really proud of what they are, or their past, so they feel embarrassed when it becomes public.

    Me? I know I’m selfish and self-centered (Some people say that’s a defect, but I don’t think so), and I am really proud of my life, even my mistakes, because they’re responsible for the man I am today.

    So, to me, worrying about privacy is a bit like worrying of what people think about you.

    I don’t.

    Cheers!!

  8. Really good post.

    Let’s look at this from an extreme angle. Quote from post:

    “I don’t give a fuck about privacy.

    I don’t mean your privacy. You won’t find me in a tree outside your window. I swear. Not that I haven’t tried.

    No, I mean my privacy. I don’t care if my personal information is online. I’m pretty mystified by people who do.”

    Now unless the guy gets off on this stuff, I’m pretty sure the above quote doesn’t extend to mean he’s comfortable with any old Tom Dick and Harry watching him fuck and displaying his cum face to the world.

    If he is, then good on him, but if not his view of what constitutes as privacy, like everyone else in the world, is compartmentalised into his own comfortable category of what he is willing to share. His privacy statement only extending to the internet is a partial demonstration of this.

    This is why I think respect for privacy on any level is important. It doesn’t matter what I am willing to share. What really matters is our willingness to give the other seven billion people that share the planet the exact same choices we have.

    Privacy isn’t always about a lack of willing to share everything, sometimes it’s as simple as having the right to choose, and who are we to decide on someone else’s behalf what that might be?

  9. Many times I desidered to write about a bunch of things in my life. But I’m holding back, because every really important lesson I learned is related to the ugly relationship I have with my parents (the most interesting things date back to my childhood). So, considering this, I realised 2 things: maybe I need some analysis to solve conflicts 😀 and I can’t write at all until I figure out a way of doing it without being addressed like an insentitve monster.

  10. Let it go Nial. Plenty of people, perhaps the far majority, do NOT put their entire lives online, along with their financials, etc. Pedro had it right when he said those who protect their privacy may, in the end, prove the wiser of the two.

  11. For me personally it comes from a fear of someone accessing my personal information photos etc and abusing it. And the other is a fear of criticism and judgement (which I feeling now while writing but I am going to post it anyway).

    To summarise; people are funny about some things…

  12. Pardon my ego-centric post earlier. When I get really involved in a book, I forget everyone isn’t just like me. I too don’t understand why people feel the need to be secretive, especially when the information would have benefit them if they had shared it. This does make it hard for open and inquisitive people to share when the story includes a very private person. I think you’re wise to have learned from consequences.
    I read that Willa Cather’s private letters are being published posthumously as an anthology, despite her wishes to keep them private. Although I love her work, I will not read this book, because it goes against her wishes to remain private. This will be difficult for me. We have to respect each other. Though it may seem harder to comply for the person who’s more open, I try to understand how someone who’s more private might feel betrayed.

  13. Hi Niall, I think that its your story and if someone has a problem with what you right they should read the book called

    The Voice of Knowledge by “Don Miguel Ruiz”

    It will help them understand that its your story, and no one has to agree as its your story.

    10 people can experience or see the same thing as you, yet when talking about it, each story will be different and each story will be right as it’s their own story.

    Before reading this book I also would get slighted if someone said something that offended me but now I remind myself it’s not my story so who cares, I know the truth as I see it in my story.

    If you can’t follow what I am saying please read the book it makes so much sense and also helped me understand the importance of my own story and no one else’s.

  14. Sorry somehow I wrote right instead of write and have no way of correcting that error, so its really my story with spelling errors..
    Happy Easter everyone
    Hugs to all
    M

  15. I think what’s important to most people is the right to tell their own story. Gossip and perceived privacy violations happen when you tell a story that’s not yours, and didn’t happen to you. If a woman is newly pregnant, it’s on her to share it or not, and she will forever distrust the friend who tells the world before she’s had a chance to tell her man, her parents, etc. There are good and respectful reasons not to share.

    The difficulty is when people share a story, of course. What part is yours to tell? What part belongs to another?

  16. I think I’m a private person at heart, meaning: maybe I wouldn’t share my deep thoughts or opinions with everybody, I would open up with people I trust. Saying that I don’t mind talking about myself even with strangers at a party, I’m just selective about what I want to share.

    The thing is, do people need to know everything about u, about what u think? For example, on your blog u are very open.. That’s your style.. The running theme if that makes sense.. But regular people on a day to day basis can afford to be more private..

    I do agree that people might be a bit withdrawn even if they don’t have anything to hide for fear of judgement from people that are negative or whatever.. But it could even be that these people are modest (like u said u talked about someone and they were offended about it but u thought they were heros).

    Anyway, about talking about other people… I tend to keep things to myself, I don’t gossip… If someone told me what happened to them I respect their privacy..

    But maybe u meant about not telling stories of experiences u had with these people.. I guess yes, you have to ask them if it’s ok to talk about it publicly.. In my case, as I don’t have a blog and if i decided that a story about a friend is interesting or entertaining but I didn’t ask for their permission I tend not to mention names or change the content a little bit..

    Cheers

  17. I’m kind of the same. I’m careful about what/who I talk about… and so far I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about my romantic relationships. I don’t need people to be mad at me, or afraid to say or do something for fear I’ll blog about it. 😛

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