Self Disclosure

by Andy Silver

If learning a new skill like healthy self-disclosure is like attempting a challenging recipe, then I have burned a lot of food. A key lesson in telling my story during the past 30 years is recognizing when it is more effective to share the facts or use a metaphor to communicate what I know. In portraying the church as an organization that that either slowly or quickly deteriorated, I reference the story of the two frogs and the pots of water. The first frog, dropped into a pot of hot water, recognized the danger and immediately jumped out. The second frog, not so lucky, was introduced into a pot of cold water; the pot was then slowly heated until the frog’s brain, unable to discern the danger, was cooked to death. A universal lesson from the Peoples Temple experience – not just mine, but practically everyone involved – is that we can rationalize dysfunctional behavior and remain too long in a dangerous environment. The story of the two frogs illustrates the importance of recovering from being “instinct-injured.”

After telling my story and watching it boomerang and end weaken or end key relationships, I have developed a support system of healthy people where I can “try out” new behaviors and received valuable feedback.

I have worked since 1999 as a workplace mediator and ombudsperson in which I facilitate conflict resolution, often giving voice to the “pink elephant in the room,” so that a more level playing field between disputing parties can be achieved and, sometimes, amends can be made. The pink elephant can include a white male having little comprehension at how a woman of color could perceive his tone as condescending when he thought he was being matter-of-fact. I have hosted a public workshop entitled “How to Have a Crucial Conversation,” which suggests the skills for discussing difficult issues so that relationships are strengthened. If learning about self-disclosure has been like trial and error for each of us, I bet our batches of burned food – as well as our success stories – all bear some resemblance. A large employer withdrew a written job offer but, six months later, another employer who had heard about my story, offered me employment.

(Andy Silver is a former member of Peoples Temple, and is now a divorce and federal mediator in Charlotte, North Carolina. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. He may be reached at

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 12th, 2014.
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