The illusion of transparency

You stand in front of your public speaking class with your notes centered on the lectern, your stomach performing gymnastics… You felt as if you had eaten a spoonful of sawdust as you walked up to the blackboard, As you begin to speak the lines you’ve rehearsed, you search the faces of your classmates… Your voice quavers. Flop sweat gathers behind your neck. You become certain your skin must be glowing red and everyone in the room is holding back laughter. Except they aren’t. They are just bored… no matter how strong an emotion or how powerful an idea, it never seems as intense of potent to the world outside your mind as it does to the one within. This is the illusion of transparency.

You know what you are feeling and thinking, and you tend to believe those thoughts and emotions are leaking out of your pores, visible to the world, perceivable to the outside. You overestimate how obvious what you truly think must be and fail to recognize that other people are in their own little bubble, thinking the same thing about their inner worlds.

The huge discrepancy between what you think people will understand and what they really do has probably led to all sorts of mistakes in text messages and e-mails. On the Internet, people often include “s/” at the end of a statement to indicate sarcasm (it’s a programming joke, essentially meaning “conclude sarcasm”). It was so hard to communicate tone online we had to create a new punctuation mark.

When you get near the person you have a crush on and feel the war drums in your gut, don’t freak out. You don’t look as nervous as you feel. When you stand I front of an audience or get interviewed on camera, there might be a thunderstorm of anxiety in your brain, but it can’t get out; you look far more composed than you believe. Smile. When your mother-in-law cooks a meal better fit for a dog bowl, she can’t hear your brain stem begging you to spit it out.

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart