Do we wear many masks? Or just one? Are they really masks? Or can we perceive them as facets of a multi-dimensional self?
Masks has a connotation of being false. Thus it is hard to pair a mask with authenticity. I have been using the words – facet or aspect. And I tie it to a metaphor of a gem – we are one crystal with many facets. Each facet faces a different tribe. A few people close to the edges of these facets may see a more than one of our facets and connections to more than one of our tribes. Some of us are pretty translucent gems, while others prefer to be – or need to be – opaque.
This is deeply tied into a model of a human we use when designing social software. When we presume that a human is an integrated whole who shows all people the same depth and dimensions of our being, we create too superficial of a tool. And we end up with several dilemmas.*
- Show the whole self and bombard people with TMI (and later get held accountable for your intimacy).
- Show only one dimension of the self (and get accused of not being authentic or of not being a part of one of your tribes)
- Create multiple identities (and then try to keep track of them and which facet you display in each… and later get pushed out by “real names” social software.)
We are too often seen as a single facet (race, religion, work, location, affiliation, purpose, etc.) when we are many. Social Network Analysis, of which I am an avid fan and advocate, still usually only maps for one dimension of the self. Imagine the real social network map – the layers and layers of connections and the participation in the many tribes we belong to and participate in. This map may be so full of links and nodes as to be unread-able at anything but perhaps the most local scale. (and of course overwhelming if we move the static map into active motion of real-time interactions) (Let’s not even begin to talk about degree of association/depth of connection which adds another layer/filter to what we share and who we share it with.)
Network maps have yet to really reveal this inter-lacing because they draw links, usually, on one facet or connection type. But, in practice, most tribes are deeply interlaced. (Cults try to diminish this interlacing – by reducing other tribal affiliation and thus increasing dependency on the cult.) For example, I may live in a blue state, but I have relatives that are red voters, which keeps me informed of other positions besides the blue I seem embedded in. This is the counter argument to homophily and the risk of sameness that some are recently arguing the internet encourages (you filter for that which you are already a part of and thus only reinforce your beliefs).
Our resilience rests in our heterogeneity which brings us the diversity of viewpoints we need for a better, more complete view of our world. We build relationships by focusing on a sameness, however that need not obscure how we may be different. For example, Alexis and Xavier connect because they both believe in building better local economies. Alexis has a background in marketing. Xavier has experience developing collaborative conversations. Together Alexis and Xavier create an event for local businesses and potential entrepreneurs to meet and discuss with local government figures how to support developing local economies. As Valdis Krebs says: “connect on your sameness and benefit from your differences.”
* To keep things light, I only mention the design of social software, however, we also limit people in our in person social interactions by presuming an integrated human as if they only have one persona in their minds. Voice dialogue offers a powerful process for letting us open to the multiplicity of voices we have within us and act with greater awareness of the dynamics between those inner facets of the self.