It is said we live three lives: a public one; a personal one, and a secret one. If so, is it possible to follow the principles we’ve set for ourselves in each of those lives, or should we allow some wiggle-room depending on where we are, who we’re with, and what needs to stay hidden?
Take the principle of Honesty. It informs and colours everything we do and think. It governs our public lives—our laws and mores (mȯr-āz). It guides our personal lives, for the degree to which we can express truthfulness, sincerity, and candour determines the kinds of relationships we have with others. In our public and personal lives, expressing the truth as we know it and playing by the rules frames how we operate within a culture. But what about Honesty and a secret life? What happens to honest discourse and action then?
Secrets create a sense of individuality and help us form close bonds with those we care about. To share a secret means we trust someone. Keeping one means we respect boundaries: we don’t tell the boss a co-worker’s secret; we don’t tell someone else’s child there’s no Santa Claus.
We also keep boundaries around the secrets that cause us remorse and embarrassment. On balance, remorse is good. It keeps us from making the same mistake again, and it keeps us from creating a secret life. For unless you are one of the estimated 1 in 25 people considered sociopathic (meaning you have no remorse, and no concern for the well-being of others)(1) leading a secret life under the guise of an honest life will create massive inner conflict. It will hamper all you do and say, for at all costs, you must guard the everyday reality of your existence, lest it be discovered.
In spite of sensationalized media headlines, it is probably safe to say few of us lead secret lives, and instead refer to a public us, a personal us, a secret us. Each of those ‘us-es’ can hold onto Honesty and still make mistakes; hold onto it when we are ethically dishonest (We do the wrong thing for the right reasons); hold onto it when tender trumps truth.
However, while it may be more accurate to term those three lives as three ‘us-es’, please apply this sticker of caution: there is no actual public, personal or secret person. There’s just one ‘you’ and one ‘me’.
Perhaps we’ve created the three-lives/three-us demarcation because we need to be “human” – to be flawed; to be sloppy; to say what we really think without fear of reprisal – all of this is understandable. Or perhaps we’ve created the demarcation because we believe Honesty is confining; a hard task-master pointing to a too-hard-to-hoe row.
More often than not, however, the reality is this: Honesty is not about narrowness and confinement; it’s about ease and freedom. It brings light-heartedness, easy sleeps, and fresh awakenings. Its voice is strong, for no matter how we pile on the lies and deceptions, it’s there ‒ yammering away in the background … until finally we throw our hands in the air and (Here comes the hard-to-hoe part) own the mistake. And when it has achieved that; when it has pulled us onto to higher ground, our world becomes quiet and within it, we find peace.
But for love, there is no better gift to give or receive.
(1) Stout, M., Ph.D. (2005) The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless vs. the Rest of Us. Broadway Books, New York.
Recommended Reading (& Movie Watching)
• Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie by Dr. Gail Saltz
• Ethics by Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino
• City Island – Andy Garcia’s 2009 movie about five people struggling with honesty.