When I start preparing to write on a subject, I usually have an idea where I stand. I’m writing something from a certain perspective, which is based on a critical evaluation of the information available, giving me the best understanding possible. Therefore, not only can I ethically justify the intentions of what I write, but I feel compelled to write it in this manner. Usually my imperative is to combat disinformation and promote awareness, hopefully lead others to change their own attitudes and perspectives about a given issue, but lately, I’ve been having a sort of existential crisis about this.
It’s been said (by David Weinberger and others) that “transparency is the new objectivity.” So what I just did would be transparency, or honesty about my writing habits. But if we are to be really honest with ourselves, all of our intentions are short-sighted. We’re constantly being exposed to new information and ideas, and not just the content, but the substance of our message is always evolving. At any given point in our life, we can look back and recognize the limited understanding (or even ignorance) of what we wrote, but often what’s more embarrassing is the unheard intonations and connotation of the words we write. Whether we write with strong words, understated sentiments, or passionate rhetoric, typically as we get older we recognize our past self as being excessively immature.
However, my problem now is not worrying about how I’ll see myself in the future, but the life of my words on their own. How far does what we say go? Who will read it, and how will they interpret it? If the meaning we’re trying to relate is misconstrued, wrongly interpreted, will our agenda do more harm then good?
We go from supposed “objectivity” to a deluded sense of purposefulness when we adopt “transparency” as our modus operandi. We can’t ever really be totally honest unless we admit that we’re doing the best with what we have right now. There’s a Zen concept called “mu,” which is an answer that’s not positive, not negative, but rather means “the question does not fit the answer.” We never can have all the answers. But we can tell when people are asking the wrong questions. Instead of writing with an agenda, we can adopt the alternative of correcting the questions that are asked – expounding the ken of the audience and promoting that kind of critical thought we all need to be good readers, writers and overall better thinkers.