The Intimacy of Anonymity

There is something strangely comforting about not knowing.  When we don’t know something, we can use our imagination to fill in the gaps, we can idealize about the positive attributes of the person or thing, and we can be non- judgmental about any aspects of the relationship or situation that may prove negative or unsettling.

I have been playing an online word game with the same player for the past several months.  Through the game’s chat feature, we have learned a little about each other.  I know in which State she resides, a little about her family and her health status, and I can guess an age range.  But, I do not know her name, nor does she know mine.  I also do not know her political views, her race, or her religion.  In spite of what I do not know about her, I have grown fond of her, and anticipate playing our game together.

I have been tempted to tell her my name and to ask hers, but I rather like the anonymity.  I fear that knowing too much about her will spoil everything.  What if our chats turned to discussions about religion or politics, and we strongly disagreed with each others’ viewpoints?  What if I learned that she harbored some animus against people of my race?  What if I learned something about her that changed the way I view her?  The anonymity – the not knowing – allows me to play and enjoy the game for what it is, unfettered by thoughts or feelings that may shift my paradigm about her.

On the other hand, I may be missing out on a chance to develop a lasting friendship.  Relationships rarely come without risks, and we take a chance every time we trust someone enough to let them into our work or personal circle.

Our working relationships are sometimes that way.  We often work alongside people knowing nothing more about them than the job they do or perhaps that they had a fine weekend.  We guard information about ourselves out of concern about how it will be perceived or possibly used against us.  We have kinship of work and nothing more. The anonymity allows us to play the game for what it is – we get our jobs done and go home, unfettered by thoughts or feelings that may shift our paradigm about our coworkers.

We may sometimes feel closer to people about whom we know little because we have filled in the gaps with positive characteristics that we gleaned from their personality or work habits.   We may feel more distant to others because our obvious differences have convinced us that we could not possibly have much in common with them.  We don’t know, and we are content to let our imaginations take the place of real information.

You may be perfectly content to leave your working relationships just the way they are.  There is comfort in not knowing.  But, how much richer, creative, energized, and dynamic could the work environment be if we took a risk and got to know our coworkers on a deeper level?  Our level of collaboration could be stronger, we could develop a broader network of business connections, we could have someone in our corner when we need a strong ally.  More importantly, we would learn that at our core, we all share the same fears and desires.  We all want good things for ourselves and our families.  We all want to be loved.

We would learn that, even though we come from different backgrounds and have differences of opinion, we are more similar than we are different.

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