The question I get asked most frequently by people thinking about starting their own journal writing practice is: “What if someone snoops?”
Will we be in danger, will we cause offence and hurt? What will we do with the crippling shame and embarrassment if anyone sees what we’ve written?
These are questions which I perceive preoccupy mainly novice reflective writing practitioners. And invariably it’s the embarrassment they might feel which worries them the most. Hmmm.
Strangely the privacy question ceases to concern those who have kept a journal for a long time. Either because they’ve worked out a fail-safe way to keep their writing private, or because the quality of their writing has shifted away from being a big ol’ rant about the rest of the world, to something more considered, more balanced and compassionate – and infinitely less sensational to read.
But this more balanced output takes time and practice. And most of all it takes a certain level of acceptance of ourselves and what we think and feel, so we no longer are compelled to screech out our anger / irritation / annoyance / resistance at /with or towards anyone else in every single journal entry. The truth is that people enjoy being outraged, and will happily justify snooping where they shouldn’t if they find something that they consider outrageous. Interestingly, the more we write reflectively, the more aware and authentic we become. The more aware and authentic we become, the greater the qualities of humility and tolerance in our writing, and the less anyone will be interested in reading it. The risk reward cycle of snooping and outrage becomes irrelevant.
So what about after we’re gone? What to do about our journals should anyone discover them and read them when we’re dead? Personally this doesn’t bother me at all – I know I’ll be completely beyond any shame and embarrassment by that stage! But what if my writings cause offence to the reader, and perhaps distort their memories of me?
I’ve given this a bit of thought over the last couple of days, since this very question was tentatively put to me.
One strategy is to carefully destroy anything we write that has an immediate cathartic value for us, but which could cause hurt to anyone reading it out of context at a later stage, when it is no longer of any constructive use.
Another strategy might be to write a disclaimer letter to the reader to be included at the beginning of any new journal, explaining why you’re writing, that you cannot be held responsible for anything written within these pages after your demise, and that no harm is meant to anyone through these writings, whose purpose was purely cathartic. If, like me, you have a bit of a devilish streak you might also invite the reader to steel themselves for any unpalatable truths they might stumble upon, with which you never meant to hurt them. If anything, it’s likely to get them into journaling too!