Sharing is heavily related to communication. If we think about communicating as what we say and how we interact, sharing factors into the depth of communication. What we share when we communicate — the topics we cover, what we’re willing to talk about, etc. — is the literal relational, inescapable reality of human connection.
What I mean, for example, is, say I like industrial music and you like heavy metal. We likely have some overlap. Maybe other areas of overlap as well, but our related musical tastes is a possible connection. Music is perhaps the greatest bonding agent, but that’s beside the point right now.
Let’s say you like Metallica and I like old-Metallica okay, but I also *really* like Ministry, so I offer a suggestion that you might enjoy Ministry’s 1989 album The Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Taste. That, in a simple sense, is sharing. It’s not always glamorous or provocative or anything much at all. It’s just a tendril of possible human connection. An offering of something in the hope that the other person will find some enjoyment or utility. Sharing is how humans connect, and what we share is the thread that connects us.
Communication is all one big sharing opportunity.
What I mean when I say “what we share” is the stories we tell, the experiences we attempt to convey, the appropriate and relevant information given the situational communication goals, and so on. What we share is the literal “stuff” of our conversations.
We often share based on common interest, mutual goal, or relationship scope. What of our true authentic selves do we show, bear, or reveal? What stories do we tell? What topics do we bring up? What do those things say about us?
What do we not share? This question is equally important.
Every relationship is different.
Thinking about what we share and don’t share gets directly at the fact that communication and sharing are contextual.
Throughout the whole of communication, context is inescapable. By context, I mean that in communication there are ideas and rules that always apply, are usually unspoken, and actively shape what is appropriate, relevant, interesting, necessary, and so on.
In any given relationship, context determines the rough parameters of what can and will be shared. Contextual rules often appear rigid but are flexible. Rules of appropriateness and decorum can be bent and broken. This happens all the time.
If I ask you how much do you share with others? Well, what context are we talking about? What kind of relationship? What about you do others seem interested in? We can’t answer these questions without considering context.
In our more intimate, personal relationships, for example, sharing is mostly about self-disclosure, and has a range of breadth (what topics you share about) and depth (how personal or intimate is your sharing).
Appropriateness is key as well. For example, conversations with doctors can be quite intimate in that we talk a lot about our bodies, reproductive parts, bowel movements, maybe even an abusive home situation. But if they asked about your bank account, you’d likely balk. It’s not relevant or appropriate for the situation. Willingness to be intimate and the boundaries of appropriateness tie back to context.
So, thinking about sharing and its importance in communication requires that we also consider the boundaries that context puts on that sharing — and therefore on the communication and relationship itself. Context is tricky because we often don’t think much about it.
Intimacy is a dialectic of disclosure and secrecy. That is, they are intertwined in a yin-yang of sorts. Two elements together in a whole; connected in imperceptible ways. Disclosure and secrecy can each be healthy and destructive and aren’t inherently good or bad.
What is intimacy? It is the relaying of human experience. It’s often personal and we likely have it, or imagine it, in our close relationships: with partners and friends, maybe family, sometimes even with strangers.
Intimacy isn’t just private, though. Intimacy can also be public, as in the public telling of personal experience.
Relaying human experience is often intensely personal. Sharing the details of say, being a woman on the internet, or about what it’s like to be Black or Brown in a White world, or to explain what it’s like to be poor in the USA in 2020 are all quite “intimate” endeavors. Sometimes especially so. Stories of classism, sexism, racism, abuse, homophobia, violence, poverty are all intensely personal. And by no means is this an exhaustive list of topics about which it is possible to be intimate. It’s possible to share intimately on nearly any topic. Heck, I’ve had intimately deep conversations about paragraphs in books.
Social media and the proliferation of communication tools has turned up the volume on sharing — of relaying human experience, of being intimate — in ways few ever thought possible. Podcasts, YouTube Channels, Twitter feeds, Instagram, TikTok, and a million others have allowed people to share and connect in ways that are good, bad, and everything in between. And this is without mentioning the Tinders, Facebooks, pornography sites, and deeply-hidden internet message boards that lurk the depths of the internet.
In many ways, the sharing gloves have come off. The rules are out the window.
Communicating is a dance. A mutual push-and-pull. A pulsating between parties that unfolds over time. What we say when we answer questions — when we share, when we engage in that push-pull — facilitates trust or does not. This trust shapes future conversations of the relationship, fossilizes rules on sharing and willingness to share, and informs the desire for continued connection.
Any time you share, there will be a reaction. Pay attention to reactions — yours and theirs. Whenever we communicate, there are reactions abound.
Sharing gives others power and this can be a good thing. Sharing, in essence, gives the other person an opportunity to engage or to forge ties. And relationships are always about where you’re going together.