We hear the phrase all the time. “Just keepin’ it real,” or “I like her… she’s so real.” There is definitely a strong appeal to something that appears to be without pretense or hypocrisy. Let’s face it. We’ve all sat next to Ray Stevens’ “Sister Bertha-Better-Than-You.” We know that she’s just as sinful as the rest of us, but to listen to her and under her disdainful eye, it’s really hard to remember that. So, when Letty Hang-It-All-Out-On-the-Line comes along, it’s refreshing. Very refreshing. We know her faults as well as her virtues and it’s nice not to feel stomped into the dust with all kinds of appearances.
Unfortunately, I think “realness” has morphed into more than frankness and honesty. We’ve taken the very good thing of being “transparent” about our failings and created a new virtue– one our grandmothers disdained. We now think it is somehow virtuous and “godly” to air our dirty laundry in public. Once upon a time, it was considered uncouth, disrespectful to your family, and the epitome of a lack of discretion. Discretion. There’s a beautiful old word– an antique.
Discretion: the quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment : the quality of being discreet : circumspection; especially : cautious reserve in speech2: ability to make responsible decisions
3a : individual choice or judgment <left the decision to his discretion> b : power of free decision or latitude of choice within certain legal bounds <reached the age of discretion>
I think we’ve lost discretion in the twenty-first century. Even in the course of my lifetime, things have changed. Sometimes relaxing old standards is a good thing, but other times not so much. Do I really need to know your sexual habits? Then why are you telling me? Why do I have people who try to tell me when, where, how often, and so forth? Where is discretion? Sure, you can claim it’s just “being real” but is it? Is it being real, or is it just indiscreet?
I look at people who are lauded for being real and some are admirable people who do manage to keep from flopping over the side into indiscretion. Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman is one good example. I don’t read her blog and think, “Gee, Ree, get some discretion, woman!” I usually think she has a gift for sharing the good, bad, nitty, and gritty of her life without dragging 25,000 of her closest friends into her tiff with her husband last night.
Others don’t seem to have that talent. I could start laying them out here and calling them by name in the interest of “being real,” but discretion demands that I don’t. You know, a fine example of it all is from the movie Arthur. I can’t recommend the movie, by the way, it’s not really appropriate. However, in one scene, Arthur is discussing his life with a prostitute (see, told you it was inappropriate) and says, “There is only one woman for me, and I can’t stand her. Her name is Susan. I can’t tell you her last name because that would be indiscreet… Johnson.” Yeah. The movie was made in what, 1980? 81? And look how far we’ve come. A wealthy guy with “class” today would have told you her first name, last name, the list of family indiscretions, and all without considering whether discretion applied or not.
If you think I’m crazy, think about afternoon television. What is it centered on day after day? How to budget realistically? How to help your child succeed in school? Nope. It’s riddled with expose type programs– and people are exposing themselves!!! Once upon a time, people shuddered at the mention of people like Geraldo Rivera or Phil Donahue. It meant sensationalized tabloids on the screen and was considered something people didn’t admit to watching. Now that is almost the norm. Dr. Phil competes with Oprah for the latest and greatest scandal to sweep the nation. People COMPETE to get on shows for the express purpose of airing all their dirty laundry in the name of “help,” which brings us to…
Reality TV. Notice the “reality” part of it? Real is the root word. I think that this is where “letting it all hang out” became such an acceptable part of our society. Flip on the TV on any given night and you can watch just about anything. It’s, pardon the pun, “unreal.”
You know, transparency is a beautiful thing when used well. For example, sheer curtains in a breezy sun porch can have such a light, airy beautiful effect. It allows light in the room but cuts any harsh glare. You can still glance through the windows with those sheers in place, and see the outlines of the trees, the colors of the flowers, and the children swinging in the afternoon sun. The breeze teases the hems of the sheers and billows them out like ships’ sails. It’s a lovely thing to behold! That same fabric on a grown woman in the same sunlight is not the same beautiful thing unless she’s wearing the slip of discretion. She’s not transparent, she’s exposed! It’s immodest and tacky. Sure, it’s real… but it’s not any less real if she wears appropriate undergarments that protect our eyes from what we weren’t meant to see.
You know, modesty is another form of discretion. I hear a lot of talk about modesty… about the length of a skirt or the cut of a blouse, but really, those things aren’t necessarily the point. Two women can wear the same outfit and it can be modest on while while indecent on the other. I think modesty is more easily achieved when it flows from the inward heart. It’s about appropriateness for the person, occasion, and lifestyle. It’s about not SEEKING to attract attention to ourselves. It’s about discretion in our actions and our attire.
I think a lot of our discretion fell by the wayside once the Internet became such an integral part of our lives. It started with television, sure, but the Internet grew things exponentially. With the Internet came chat rooms, message boards, blogs, and facebook. I’m thankful for all of those things. They’re a beautiful part of life when used correctly. I’m just afraid that in our desire to ensure the person on the other side of the screen 1500 miles away has an accurate picture of us, we’ve shared too much. Not only is our slip showing, we’re hanging out our bra straps, and too often, we bend over and air our unders too!
Don’t get me wrong, really. I understand the appeal. There is something very intimate about knowing that you’re not the only one out there with an imperfect life. I know how dishonest it feels when someone says how perfect they think your life IS, and you’re mentally shaking your head wondering where to start with correcting that impression. I get it. I really do. I just think the answer isn’t (here I go again on that tangent) the other extreme. It isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition. It really isn’t. You don’t have to choose between “fake” and “hang it all out.” You can be very real without losing your self-respect in the process.
Let’s face it. We all poop. The question is, do we have to share the details of that fact with everyone to be “real” or can we just let everyone assume that our bowels work just fine? I get irritated with my husband. I’m not going to pretend I don’t. I have a pretty near-perfect guy, but he lives with a very imperfect woman and I get irritated with him. I just don’t see why I have to share the intimate details of my current frustration (assuming there was one) in order to be “real.” I’m very real when I say I get irritated. I just refuse to trash him to 2500 of my closest friends on the internet.
I think we’ve taken a concept and blown it so out of proportion that it is no longer a good thing. This new kind of “realness” is a trend that values transparency as superior to everything else including discretion. Is it though? Is it really superior or is it just a whitewashed way to air dirty laundry in public? The Apostle Paul exposed sexual sin in the church in his letters. He named names. He did not give us every single detail of that sin. We don’t need to do it either.
Realness is a new trend… it’s valued as superior to everythign else including discretion… but is it really superior or is it a whitewashed way to air dirty laundry in public?