I saw a fabulous movie yesterday—”The Debt,” starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t yet seen it (I hope you do!) but I will tell you this: It got me thinking…about secrets.
What would I do, if presented with the same secret? How many of us have secrets? What are the advantages of keeping or revealing them? What are the deciding factors that lead us to the secret-keeping decision in the first place? And what are the risks?
These questions are some of the reasons secrets make for such fascinating tales—whether we’re aware of the hidden truth or not. They seduce us with questions that challenge our own beliefs and choices, the proverbial “What if…?”
In “The Debt” three former Mossad agents keep a secret for decades. As viewers, we absorb the secret’s weighty consequences long before we (or at least I) realize what it is.
One of my favorite books, “The Big Picture,” by Douglas Kennedy, centers on a wealthy lawyer with a seemingly perfect life. From the beginning, we know about the snap decision he makes to save his life and his future, only to end it all for someone else. Yet, we can’t stop flipping the pages.
Keeping an unwanted secret makes way for tumult.
“People will tend to misread the return of unwanted thoughts. We don’t realize that in keeping it secret we’ve created an obsession in a jar,” said Daniel Wegner, a Harvard psychologist who investigated the effects of secret-keeping among humans.
The longer we keep it, the more capacity it has to magnify and grow. Although this makes for awesome fiction, it can zap the pleasure from our lives.
Secrets can also draw people closer together. Two siblings who keep a secret, positive or negative, from their parents, for example, create a common bond. The same might happen for a couple, both of whom cheating on their spouses. They share much more than the same hotel room bed…
One of the worst kinds of secret, in my opinion, are ones we keep about our desires solely within, or even from, ourselves: An artist who never puts his paintbrush to the page…a writer too afraid of failure to write Chapter One… Another in a damaging relationship who never admits she’s unhappy, and thus never leaves.
In an interview with “USA Weekend,” Anita Vangelisti, a researcher and professor of communication studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said that most people say they will keep a secret, only to tell another: “I promised I wouldn’t say anything, but…” Only about 10 percent of people reportedly keep secrets “no matter what.”
So what’s your deepest, darkest secret? KIDDING! I won’t make that silly move, but I would love to hear your thoughts on secret-keeping. If it’s for a good cause, is it all good? What has life taught you about secret-keeping? And…because I love a good thriller—any secretive books or movies you’d recommend?
If you do wish to share your secrets, “there’s an app for that.” Check out Post Secret to share and absorb others’ secrets from around the world.
Piper Bayard says
What I call “dysfunctional secrets” can destroy, for sure. In alcoholic families, for example, the whole family is devoted to keeping up the image that things aren’t really as bad as they are. Often, there are secrets within the family, as well. “Don’t tell your mother, but. . . . ” This divides loyalties, perpetuate the dysfunctionality, and leave people feeling like they need a good bath. I believe all dysfunctional secrets must be brought into the light before people can lead fulfilling lives.
On the other hand, there are what I call “private secrets.” Private secrets are things that are simply kept private. They do not divide loyalties, foster dysfunctional behavior, or leave you feeling dirty in the morning.
I have many private secrets. My spy novel writing partner, Holmes, is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations. I am the public face of our partnership. As such, I can’t always talk about where I go or what I do. I just keep such things private, and my friends have graciously become accustomed to allowing me my vagaries without taking offense.
Love your blog, August. You bring up such marvelous issues.
August McLaughlin says
Thanks so much for your insightful response, Piper, and for visiting. Indeed, there are numerous types of secrets.
I couldn’t have stated this better: “I believe all dysfunctional secrets must be brought into the light before people can lead fulfilling lives.”
Authenticity makes way for SO MUCH good.
Stay happy and well. Best regards to Holmes.
I’ve also written about this subject, on a couple of separate occasions. I think it’s important. And yet I almost never hear anyone else bring it up. I even included a brief discussion of it in Chapter 10 of my book (which I promise you I’m not trying to plug):
There’s this saying I heard a long time ago:
A secret is no longer a secret when more than one person knows about it.
I think that that’s essentially true.
The Hook says
Awesome title1 Your body rocks too!
Your post body, I mean!