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Obsessive Kompulsion: Poking Holes in the Illusion

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So, the interesting thing about having a column is that it puts me into a very public sphere. As someone who considers himself an introvert, this presents a couple of issues: (1) being misunderstood and not having the chance to clarify others’ misconceptions, even if I what I wrote makes sense to me; and (2), more problematically, that there is only so much I feel comfortable revealing about myself in this setting — what I say in my column is very different than what I write in my journal.

I see these issues as part of a larger problem, one that a friend and I discussed last Saturday — a problem that has resonated as a zeitgeist of the week in my conversations with peers and in some of this week’s other columns: reality and the Illusion.

My friend and I discussed the notion that most of what we say and do in our interactions with others is an “Illusion,” a projection of how we want ourselves to be perceived. Some of us are better than others at packaging and marketing these projections, but it still exists.

For example, I say things like, “I’m fine, thanks — and you?” even to those who are physically or emotionally closest to me. And in social settings, like the dorm, the classroom, Happy Hour at Terra, I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who feels as insecure or unhappy as I sometimes do — like I’m the only one who’s struggling to finish one paper as I start another and keep up with the reading in SLE, while managing other academics and extracurriculars; like I’m the only one who has trouble striking up conversations with people I don’t know at Happy Hour, even though I’d like to; like I’m the only one who is awkward about expressing interest in other people or who is hurt when that interest is not reciprocated.

My friend said that part of the solution is to feel better knowing that others are just projecting — but this doesn’t deal with the larger problem of the Illusion’s existence. So my friend suggested “Radical Honesty” as a way to puncture the Illusion — of always expressing what we think and how we feel, with the idea that life would be better in the long run if everyone were honest.

I argued that there are some necessary and practical functions to the Illusion and that honesty isn’t always productive. And even if this isn’t true, many times it’s uncomfortable to speak the truth — white lies are what maintain the peace that we see on the surface. At the same time, though, these small fabrications, alterations, illusions are what allow the Stanford Bubble (and other bubbles) to exist.

Wouldn’t Stanford be even more of a genuinely happy place (for despite the existence of the Bubble, I still think I am the happiest college student I could possibly be at this campus) if we were more candid about our thoughts and feelings, more honest to ourselves and to others?

Part of an Esquire article I read on Radical Honesty said that, with respect to resentment, it’s meant to be expressed directly in person: “so that you can experience in your body the sensations that occur when you express the resentment, while at the same time being in the presence of the person you resent, and so you can stay with them until the sensations arise and recede and then get back to neutral — which is what forgiveness is.” (Include other feelings besides resentment here and I think this gets at the essence of how we should interact with one another — these interactions are what meaningful relationships are.)

Yet, still — and I apologize for vacillating so much, but this is a complex issue — I am too much of a coward to take the first step. Little white lies still get me by, and I am honest enough to reveal part of my real self, but still hide behind somewhat of an Illusion in this column.

I don’t think it’s bad to have private areas of the self, or necessary that the public know you, but you are more than the public — you are my peers, my deans, even my family, and you should know more. So, as a semi-action, to find a medium between my column and my journal in which I can semi-publicly be Radically Honest, I’ve started a blog. It’s invite only. Only two people besides me see it at the moment. But I’ve done my best to be completely honest about what makes me upset, what I desire and why I make the choices that I do. And so far it’s been rewarding.

If we can’t collectively break the Illusion, maybe all we each need is our own “semi-public” outlet to which we can vent and be radically or naturally honest to more people than just ourselves. I certainly will try more to avoid the Illusion in my future columns.

Kristian wants to know if you want access to the blog. You probably won’t get it, but shoot him a line at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. A full time journalist/writer and occasional student, he's served as an Opinion section editor, News writer and desk editor for The Daily, is a community liaison for Stanford STATIC, the campus' progressive blog and journal, and maintains his own website, 'With a K.' He's interested in how the press perpetuates systems of oppression and seeks to use journalism as a tool for dismantling such systems.