Tag Archive | "secrets"

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

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Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”  If you think Ben’s was a cynical view of human nature, you may wish to examine your own track record.  How many times have you broken a confidence, and to what degree? 

I’ll come clean and admit that, as a child, “Tattle Tale” could have been my nickname.  My position in the family may have contributed to my propensity for blabbing.  As one of six children, and a middle child, I sought attention.  I’d sneak around, listening to the secrets whispered by my older sisters.  And then I’d spill the proverbial beans to my parents.  Although those childhood secrets were pretty harmless, there are some confidences that are like unstable bombs.  Mishandled, they can explode in your face.

Such was the case with military security during World War II.  “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was a saying that emerged during that conflict, and for good reason; it played a critical role in national security.  If captured by the enemy, our troops had been trained to offer no information other than their names, ranks, and serial numbers.  Further information would have clued the enemy in as to the location of our armed forces and military strategies.  The most important code of conduct during the war was not to commit sensitive information to writing.  A woman I know had an uncle serving in the Marines.  His letters arrived home with pieces of them literally cut out, as with a pair of scissors.  This was the U.S. military’s way of censoring the soldier’s whereabouts.  If the mail had fallen into the wrong hands, the Marine and his fellows would have been unprotected.

As for me, I got better at keeping secrets as I matured.  But some secrets made me toss and turn at night, wondering whether or not I should divulge them to those I felt had the right to know.  For instance, a woman I once knew confided in me that she was having an extramarital affair.  Because she’d always seemed like a devoted mother and wife, I was shocked.  Her revelation wedged me firmly between a rock and a hard place, because I was also acquainted with her husband.

Although the woman felt her choice was justified, she never made me privy to her rationale.  Perhaps she felt unfulfilled or under-appreciated in her marriage.  Maybe she felt there should be more to her life than serving as cook/chauffeur/babysitter-maid.  She had lost quite a bit of weight, so maybe her lover took notice of that and gave her the gratification that her husband didn’t.  Or maybe it was a momentary lapse of reason.

I made the choice to remain silent primarily for the sake of the woman’s children, who were quite young at the time.  I didn’t want to be responsible for ripping the family apart because of an indiscretion.  Fortunately, my friend’s escapade did not last long.  To this day, she remains married to her husband and has raised her children.  I am sure that she avoided turmoil by never baring her soul to her husband.

Perhaps if I had told her husband what I knew, he may have tried to exact revenge upon his wife and/or or her lover.  He may have become violent.  We can none of us gauge another person’s aptitude for forgiveness until that person is put to the test.

While some folks thrive on revealing secrets, the rest of us find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma when faced with a secret.  Of course, there are always situations in which it is not wrong to betray someone’s trust.  Those circumstances include reporting child abuse.  In the late 1970’s, there was a famous case in New York City in which Lisa Steinberg, an innocent six-year-old girl, was beaten to death by her adoptive father, Joel Steinberg.  Joel had also been beating Lisa’s adoptive mother, Hedda Nussbaum, who never reported the child’s treatment to the authorities.  Time and again, the little girl had showed up for school with black and blues, yet none of her teachers ever questioned what was happening.  Had someone spoken up, the child would no doubt have been saved.

And then there are cases of “tough love,” in which parents turn their children in for robberies, selling drugs, harming others, or other illegal acts.  It must break the parents’ hearts to do so, but in the end, they tell the truth in order to do right by everyone.

Our own government has always kept secrets and probably always will.  For example, close advisors to FDR claimed — after the fact — that intelligence had alerted our President of Japan’s plans to bomb Pearl Harbor.  The President allowed the attack to happen in order to gain America’s support to enter the war, for he could not sell it when only European nations seemed to be impacted.  Were this scenario true, it had its pros and its cons.

There may be times when we are better off not knowing things, so as to avoid a public panic.  Then again, there are times when the truth, as revealed by our government, would enable us to make informed decisions.   Had we known what the BP execs and bribees in Washington were up to when they signed off on the debacle that caused the oil spill in the Gulf, ruined our environment, and robbed our people of their livelihoods, we would have had the opportunity to lynch the dirty bastards, avoid disaster, and send a message to other greedy rats lying in wait. 

When it comes to your own mysteries, you will want to be careful when it comes to those to whom you trust your deepest, darkest secrets.   Samuel Johnson said it best: “To keep your secret is wisdom, but to expect others to keep it is folly.”  John (8:32) advises us that the truth will set us free.  Just keep in mind that telling the truth has its consequences.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

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