The Three Faces of Anonymity

What lies behind the need for anonymity?  These are some of the ideas that formed out of some recent discussions with my friends.

  • Safety

Anonymity is a way of ensuring that safety of the person, whether from physical harm or emotional / psychological harm, such as embarrassment, judgement, and so forth.

  • Objectivity

Anonymity is a way of separating “the message” from “the messenger.”  We all too often judge the message by the person delivering it.  But the opposite is true as well, the person is judged by his/her message (which leads back to the first point, safety.)  Anonymity separates the two, allowing both message and messenger to remain in a more objective space.

  •  Non-ownership

In its higher-ego sense, anonymity is a way for an idea to not be associated to an individual, which would otherwise lead to perceiving an “ownership” relationship between the idea and the person that came up with the idea.  Instead, anonymity allows the idea to be “owned” by the group.

Anonymity as a Tool

The three concerns described above are entangled, as each of these can lead to violence:

  • A lack of safety leads to physical and psychological hurt
  • A lack of objectivity leads to judgmental thinking
  • A lack of non-ownership leads to egoistic comparisons of strengths and weaknesses among the people in the group

Whether it is flame wars in an online forum or physical violence over issues like abortion,    anonymity is a tool to ultimately avoid an act of violence, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual.

Anonymity as a Crutch

Conversely, anonymity can prevent us from doing the really deeper work of achieving:

  • clarity
  • responsibility
  • accountability
  • deeper understanding

for our thoughts and actions.

The circumstances will determine the necessity and measure of anonymity, as a crutch is, after all, an important tool.

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