I had a great psychotherapist who had grown into his name—Solomon. Dr. Michael Solomon’s wisdom was of a kind rarely seen. He added breadth and depth to my complicated life. Often his words were simple, yet profound. For instance, he talked about the difference between a secret and something private.
Mike defined a secret as information kept from others to avoid the consequences of inappropriate actions. Private information, on the other hand, is not moral in nature. One is not avoiding disclosing information because it will uncover unseemly behavior. The information is simply private. For instance, your sex life with your spouse—that would be private. Now if your sex life includes immoral behavior, then it becomes a secret. See the difference?
Making a distinction between what is secret and what is private resonated with me. I like the definition of a secret as something kept from others to avoid being held accountable for inappropriate actions. It reminds me of Scott Peck’s definition of lying—”a shortcut to legitimate suffering.” You’ve done something stupid for which you do not want to accept the consequences. You lie. It might work for a while, but eventually it catches up with you.
I grew up in a family in which boundaries were unfortunately porous. One of my primary caregivers was inclined to tell me information I really should not have known, and did not want to know, while withholding other information that would have been really, really helpful. You can imagine how much fun that was.
For the first decade of our marriage my wife was surprised (and I might add, not particularly pleased) with the information I shared with others. On the other hand, I was extremely private about some things. I struggled with discernment. Understanding healthy boundaries is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. It is hard to develop a high emotional intelligence without them.
For a long time I kept the news private that I was transgender. I was not hiding sinful behavior, unless just being human is sinful behavior. It was not a secret. It was just private.
When I did choose to come out I felt it was time for the information to become public. And now it is public—very public. So you ask, do I have any secrets? Not consciously, though I think most of us have a few secrets hiding in a back closet, covered in cobwebs. Somewhere along the way we drive them there and slam the door. We forget about ’em until they pry the door open to haunt us. So we root them out and bring them to light. A cleansed heart is good for the soul.
I think I know the difference between what is secret and what is private. As to whether or not something private should be made public, well that’s another question. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Photo (Flickr CC) by catherine