A gentleman's name should appear in the newspaper only three times: When he's born, when he marries, and when he dies. And we are, first and foremost, gentlemen.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Kingsman: The Secret Service
A man shouldn’t talk about himself. He should keep his successes and failures quiet. He shouldn’t go on tooting his own horn as that is a sign of insecurity, vanity, and shallowness. He must be absolutely discrete, as discretion is a sign of intelligence. And if you’re not discrete, you are doing it wrong. How do I know this? Because I’m right and if you don’t agree, you’re not being discrete, so I win anyway. Rant over.
Drop mic and walk off the stage.*
Except it doesn’t quite work like that now days. The world is changing and how we navigate within it is changing as well, even if you don’t want to admit it. We are constantly leaving digital tracks all over the place as our virtual presence becomes just as important as our physical one. Our online branding becomes as important as our offline reputation.
Does this mean we must share every single lunch option we pick or every trip to the gym or even every bad date? Or does this mean we should guard our online image so carefully that our virtual presence becomes inconsequential as we become little more than one of those fake twitter profiles sold to boost follower statistics? Should we become little more than the virtual version of the locked in crazy cat lady as we hide our presence from the world?
I am a great supporter of the idea of discretion as I learned, while still young, the benefits of avoiding leaving a trail of my misconducts. I might have never been much of a saint, but I was smart enough to avoid blabbing around about my adventures and misfortunes. My mother would always say that “dirty clothing is washed behind closed doors.” I made sure there were few pictures of my bohemian days, never kept a little black book or a journal that could be used as incriminating evidence. This kept everyone involved better off, as they were able to trust me from incriminating them. I do admit it was a lot easier in my young and daring days as this was before social media turned everyone into a public figure, where YouTube and Twitter make your temporary indiscretion into permanent shameful reminders.
The challenge now is that you, as a person, become a brand and social media such as Facebook, Tinder, and OK Cupid have become your social presentation cards. You are forced to actually open up publicly to the world to have access to the world. Surprisingly your profile serves as validation to who you are in the real world instead of the other way around. What you are willing to admit publicly on a profile is believed more than what you say during a casual conversation.
Our profiles become open admissions of who we are, stating what we want others to know and at the same time what we are willing to “hide.” Society has taken the same NSA surveillance mentality is complains about. “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, why would you hide it” has become the common ideology when looking over what people post about their lives. Is your relationship status “hidden” because you are hiding the fact that you are in a relationship or because it’s nobody’s business if you are in one? Do you avoid a profile picture to keep people from finding you or because you only let select people find you? At this point, discretion starts to border on deception.
Others tend to run the complete opposite mentality. In their attempt to become open about themselves, they tend to overshare, turning their lives into little more than Reality TV entertainment. We see this often in personal FB profiles or blogs, where people make desperate bids for attention by making spectacles of their lives. Sure, they get a lot of hits and followers, but that’s not always a good thing. Traffic accidents get plenty spectators as well. I have seen more than one Blogger lose friends, get divorced, fired, or passed over for employment because those around them tire of becoming collateral damage of that train wreck.
So, how do you handle discretion without falling into deception? How do you handle opening up without becoming a liability to those around you? Moderation. Don’t hide who you are, but don’t click bait for distinction. Let the world see you, but don’t chase the spotlight. This way you are you, while keeping you from becoming a spectacle.