"She promised to obey his orders in the most faithful manner; and Blue Beard, after kissing her tenderly, stepped into his coach, and drove away."
~ "Blue Beard," from the French Tale by Charles Perrault
We all have secrets. We don't always admit that we have them, but we do—those self-identified "dark" things of the psyche that cause us to cry out in our sleep, "No!" Then a shudder, a mutter, a snore, and come morning all that's left is a feeling of dis-ease that only sugar can disperse—a glazed donut, maybe, or the last of the Oreo Cookies.
Someone asks, "Have you ever done anything you're ashamed of?"
"No," we answer so quickly there is no time for the shudder we felt in slumber. "No."
"Me neither," says the other person, looking out at the window as a bus passes on the street. We both shake our heads, take another sip of coffee, another bite of that custard-filled, maple-iced donut. Eventually, all that's left of the thing-we-won't-tell is the occasional dream that wakes us in a cold sweat or the residue of sugar that coats the teeth before we brush at night.
Well, that's one kind of secret.
Then there's, "Can you keep a secret?" or "Don't tell anyone, OK?"
Sometimes when I'm lying awake at night, I amuse myself by thinking about the things I know about other people that I haven't told anyone, and I then wonder how many secrets each of those people carries, and if we wrote it all out on a giant chalkboard and drew connections in various colors—dotted lines and dashed lines and intersecting and crossing lines—wouldn't the Network of Secrets look like a map of the Los Angeles highways? And who wants to go there?
A current fad is this business of being "transparent," which I happen to think is a very good thing, an idea I practice in my daily life and add to my Life Philosophy (LP)—which is beginning to look like the vegetable soup I make in the winter, throwing in anything that looks good and nourishing. In my LP, transparency is simple honesty, outright and uncolored by any agenda, secret or otherwise. It gets tricky only when I wonder if I'm infringing on someone else's privacy—or when I unwisely agree to keep someone else's secret.
But here's another thing about someone else's secret: I usually forget whatever the person told me, which can be a good thing—I can't tell it if I can't remember what "it" is—or a bad thing if I remember the "it" and forget the "secret" part. When I worked at Apple Computer, it was drilled into us not to talk about what we were working on, not to talk about what we knew other employees were working on (because word spreads in the hallways and elevators and lunchtime patios), what we heard in meetings, what we read in email (in those days email was just internal). So I didn't talk to anyone about my work, and I was so strict with myself about this that the only way I knew "it" wasn't a secret was if I read about it in MacWorld. Then I could acknowledge that I knew—if I remembered that I knew.
The other night, Hug and I were watching an old episode of Medium where someone says to Allison, "Don't tell Joe [Allison's husband], OK?" I looked at Hug and we both shook our heads, and then I said aloud to Allison on the TV: "That's a really bad agreement, Allison. Don't do it!" I don't keep secrets from Hug. I also don't gossip to her about things I hear that are none of my business. We talk all the time, we share stories, and we know the difference between sharing some bit news and gossiping. The secret (ha!) is checking in with your body: gossip doesn't feel good.
It's not a good idea to create a secret in the first place. We may not be hiding our slaughtered wives behind a locked door (a la Blue Beard), but secrets put distance between people, keep us aloof and vigilent—and worse. On the other hand, they make a great premise for telling a gripping story, and where would we be without those? I especially love reading a good story about secrets when I'm also eating a glazed donut and sipping tea. But that's just me.