I personally find the ideas of privacy and secrets fascinating for a simple reason. I don’t understand them. I mean I do, but I really don’t.
When I think of facts about myself that I don’t want others to know, I come up completely empty. There’s nothing about my life or thoughts that I wish to hide from others. Ideally, I’d find it better if everyone knew everything about me and my thoughts. I don’t think this is from some sort of reverse voyeurism where I get joy out of others seeing my faults, flaws, and mistakes. I just think it stems from a lack of shame and guilt. Why and what should I hide from others?
If I have some sort of fault or flaw, it is either not in my control to change it or it is. If it isn’t, then what would give rise to shame or guilt over it? If it is in my control and I am aware of it, I should change it. If it’s in my control and I’m unaware of it, then being more open could expose it and make me aware of it. The last option, that I’m aware of it and don’t wish to change it, could have two explanations. I simply need convincing that it is a fault or flaw and thus be given a reason to change, or I actually don’t view it as a fault or flaw and should not feel shame or guilt.
On the other hand, a mistake is some accident that I’ve committed. It’s not the same as a fault or flaw that are characteristics of me. I acted in some manner that is immediately changeable. In admitting it is a mistake, I can move forward with more correct action henceforth and have no need of shame or guilt. For instance, some people may want it kept private when they do something stupid, but we all do something stupid at some point and so it’s easier to just give voice to the mistake and move on.
So one would think that if I have no reason for privacy, I have no reason for secrets. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Secrets are often not for my own sake, but that of others. I’m happy to be an open book and tell anyone anything about myself at any time. However, divulging information that includes knowledge of other people can have the consequence of harming or hurting those others who may in fact value their privacy and do not want to be included in your conversations with others. This is a shame.
It’s a shame because the things that are secret often butt up directly against the limits of what is socially acceptable and most interesting. The things we don’t or aren’t allowed to talk about in polite social settings are the things we would most be interested in talking about. Some of them even go right up to the line of what is legal.
For example, much of what would legally be considered sexual harassment seems off base to me. To say something like, “You’re beautiful, would you like to have sex?” is to a cross a large, black and white line in most circumstances and in many cases would get you fired at work or possibly charged with sexual harassment as a crime.
Strictly speaking, this is not harassment as the term is typically used. There is no bullying or intimidation. No threat of force or violence. It is a subjective statement of fact followed by an offer of consensual exchange. As long as the questioner respects whatever answer is received and moves on, there is no reason for this to be seen as offensive, let alone illegal.
I see all of this privacy, secretness, and limit setting as clear barriers to connection between people. It creates alienation. With the sexual harassment laws, I can see a clear path that could be outlined as a slippery slope and I understand the protection it is trying to offer, but as just one example among many of free speech being infringed on it when it doesn’t cause harm, it would seem that all of the costs added together would outweigh the negativity of alienation from fellow human beings. We connect through speech and taking away the right to speech is a guaranteed way to slowly strangle what is possible to connect over.
In the extreme, these desires for privacy, secret keeping, and limit setting can paralyze us. When we see the danger of offending those around us at every word, it locks us in place and prevents any action or words at all. We simply cease trying to connect with others altogether. Why risk offending, upsetting, hurting, or angering others over your words that have no intention of offense when you can simply keep your mouth closed and not say anything? That eliminates all chance of harm to others.
I recognize that some (much?) of this may simply be my experience and that perhaps it doesn’t generalize at all, but it is my experience nonetheless. I would love to connect more meaningfully with others than I currently do, but that requires moving beyond discussions of the latest TV show or sports highlight. To me, it means discussing topics that can offend and trying to figure out why they offend in the first place. Extending every word as though taking a cautious step into a minefield is exhausting. Better to stay home and read instead. No harm to others there.