Johari Window

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In 1955, a pair of psychologists transformed their insights into human behavior into a simple illustration.

Instead of opting for a fancy technical label, they named it after themselves.  Thus Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham unveiled the Johari Window. 

Imagine a window with four panes.  The panes represent four different categories of what I know and what others know about my life at any given moment. 

The vertical columns represent my self-awareness.  The two left-hand panes describe things that are known to me, while the two right-hand panes contain truths about my own life that I don’t currently know.  The horizontal columns represent what is know about me by other people.  The two upper panes describe what is publicly apparent about Glenn McDonald, while the two lower panes depict the realms where others remain in the dark concerning who I really am.

Confused?  Let’s look at each pane individually.  What we discover are four degrees of transparency. 

The Open Area (the red pane in the image above) is the place where light and truth come shining through unobstructed.  Anyone and everyone can know, for instance, that I am a husband, father, and grandfather, and that my once-blond hair has turned white.  That’s both private and public knowledge. 

Just below that is the Hidden Area (the green pane).  This contains the things that I know about myself, but which others do not.  Some of them are trivial.  Last week I purchased a key lime pie and ended up eating the whole thing by myself.  That information, by the way – because I just disclosed it – is now part of my Open pane.  But there are some non-trivial secrets in my Hidden area that I am exceedingly reluctant to share with others, even with my closest friends and family. 

Next comes my Blind Area (the orange pane).  This contains things that others know about me, but which for any number of reasons I don’t yet know about myself.  I’m grateful whenever someone says to me, “Did you know you have a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth?”  But I’m not nearly so enthusiastic when someone says, “Don’t you know how much you hurt people when you say things like that?”

Finally, there’s the realm that Luft and Ingham called the Unknown Area (the blue pane).  There are significant things about me that I don’t know and that others don’t know.  But God knows.  God alone knows the depths of my motivations, fears, rationalizations, and spiritual frailties – things that I presume will become fully known to me in the next world. 

So what’s our goal in the here and now?

We must live in such a way that our Open Area becomes larger and larger.  Our transparency and self-awareness must continue to grow. 

That hope is embodied in one of the Bible’s great memory verses:  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)

The Greek word translated “fellowship” is koinonia.  It means much more than, “Let’s occasionally have pot-luck suppers and try really hard to learn the names of each other’s kids.”  From a biblical perspective, fellowship is much bolder.  It describes God’s vision for a courageous, trust-based sharing of real life with other people.  And that is possible only if we allow our Open Areas to grow at the expense of our Hidden and Blind Areas.

And that won’t be easy.

Some of us have Hidden panes so vast and painful that they dominate the rest of the window.  We’re drowning in shame.  We’re terrified of our secrets.  We dedicate an extraordinary amount of our energy to the all-consuming task of hiding from God, from other people, and even from ourselves. 

But notice the promise of I John 1:7:  As we walk in God’s light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.  The Greek word translated “purifies” is katharizein.  It means to make clean, and is the root of the English word “catharsis.”  It may take incredible courage, but it is cathartic and cleansing to tell the truth about ourselves in a setting of deep trust.  That’s why Twelve Step meetings can be so transforming (“My name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic”) while church gatherings are so often places to continue hiding (“My name is Bill, and my life is just great, thank you”). 

Some of us have Blind panes so huge that we go through life blissfully unaware of the relational debris fields trailing behind us.  Koinonia demands something inherently risky.  Someone who loves me is going to have to sit down and say to me, “Glenn, you don’t seem to recognize how your behavior is negatively affecting other people.”  At that moment I will need to summon sufficient humility to take in a data point I was not expecting, and which may leave my head spinning. 

Real fellowship, in fact, requires mega-doses of humility, grace, courage, and love – the very character qualities that we know are most important in life, but which don’t suddenly appear because of a couple of New Year’s resolutions. 

What we cannot generate through self-effort, however, God richly pours into the hearts of those who are willing to receive him.  As we walk in the light, as he is in the light…

Opening ourselves to God’s light, our Open panes will gradually grow larger.  We will courageously Ask trusted companions, “What do you see in my life that I don’t see that needs to change?”  And we will bravely Tell those same friends of the heart, “I need to admit something I’ve been hiding for far too long, that I know is holding me back.”

What’s the way of the world?  Sadly, it’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

But as we are strengthened by God’s grace and power, we will increasingly be able to say, concerning the window panes of our life: 

Here comes the sun.