Last year, I recommitted to keeping a personal journal and have managed to stick with it so far – which is actually something of an accomplishment, considering how many I've started and abandoned over the years.
Right off the bat, I decided two guiding principles: One, focus on what I was feeling, not the minutiae of the day; two, never lie to the journal, even if it meant writing down some ugly truths. Exposing my inner life on paper like that made me a little nervous then, and still does now.
That's why I was very interested when Steve at Recording Thoughts wrote a post on his blog recently asking, "Is Your Journal a Liability?" His point was that our journals should not be self-indulgent spaces where we can be our worst selves, but where we strive to be better. That way, we have nothing to be embarrassed about if someone reads it.
While I admire the idea that he put forth, I disagree in that I feel like a personal journal is exactly the place where we can work out all our inner conflicts, and those conflicts are very often messy and unappealing. Not the kind of stuff you necessarily would like to air in front of other people.
That, however, presents a problem because what Steve alluded to is true: There's a strong possibility that at some point, a person who is not you is going to read your journal.
Yes, you can lock them up. Forbid spouses, kids, parents to read them. Carry them with you everywhere you go. But you can't keep them private forever.
I cringe to think of the number of times I've left my journal laying out where someone else could pick it up, read it, or even walk out with it. If memory serves, I believe I've even left one on top of my car and driven off without it before. And that doesn't even count the family and friends who have access to it at home.
Or what about when we pass? Surely people we loved will be thumbing through them.
So, journal-keepers have a few options.
You can censor yourself, hold some things back, soften others so as to not hurt as much. I believe this blunts the effectiveness of a journal, limits your ability to be brutally honest with yourself. But you have to weigh that cost against the potential harm you could cause and see which means more to you. That decision alone could be very telling.
You can do as Steve suggests, which I actually think is a worthwhile idea and something most people already do unconsciously. That is, write your journal so that other people can someday read it and gain insight into you. Make it a gift to people you love.
Or, you can just leave it all there on the page, all the beauty and the ugliness, the clarity and the confusion, the whole chaotic mess of conflicting emotions we all experience every single day. Commit it to the page without regard for what others will think, using your journal only as a means to help you find your way.
Then again, we could all just switch to password-protected computer journals that a friend swears to delete in the case of our unexpected demise.
It's something I'll be wrestling with for a bit.