My boyfriend and I recently watched "The Circle," arguably Tom Hanks' worst movie. Though not due to his performance (Hanks is always great) or even Emma Watson's - but the movie lacked substance - IMO.
While it was neither of our favorite movies, it did help to pass the time on the plane back from vacation, and one line stood out to me that I am still thinking about today: "Secrets are lies."
In order to have this conversation, we need to get clear on what defines a secret. I'll venture to say that most people know what a lie is, but we will take a look at that word as well.
You see, not everyone looks at a secret the same way (and this in and of itself is a factor in the justification of keeping secrets).
Keep in mind folks that this my blog. It's my opinion. There will be very little research and a whole lot of emotion.
Let's take a look at America's most trusted dictionary, Merriam Webster, for a definition of the word.
Definition of secret (as an adjective)
a : kept from knowledge or view
b : marked by the habit of discretion
c : working with hidden aims or methods
d : not acknowledged
e : conducted in secret a secret trial
remote from human frequentation or notice : secluded
revealed only to the initiated : esoteric
designed to elude observation or detection
containing information whose unauthorized disclosure could endanger national security
kept hidden from others : known to only a few people
keeping information hidden from others
hidden from the knowledge of others
Definition of secret (as a noun)
a : something kept hidden or unexplained
b : something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few
c : a method, formula, or process used in an art or operation and divulged only to those of one's own company or craft
d secrets plural : the practices or knowledge making up the shared discipline or culture of an esoteric society
a prayer traditionally said inaudibly by the celebrant just before the preface of the mass
something taken to be a specific or key to a desired end
a fact or piece of information that is kept hidden from other people
: in a private place or manner
The key here is that withholding the information is purposeful. One is deliberately not telling the other person(s) pertinent information.
Here's an interesting piece of history of the origin: In late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin secretus (adjective) ‘separate, set apart,’ from the verb secernere, from se- ‘apart’ + cernere ‘sift.’
When someone keeps a secret, they are setting that information apart from the rest of the information so that the entire truth is not known.
Before we dissect the definition of secret a bit further, let's take a look at the word lie.
Definition of lie (as a verb)
:to say something that is not true in order to deceive someone
Definition of lie (as a noun)
:something said or done in the hope of deceiving :an untrue statement
Now, let's examine some of the parallels between a secret in a lie:
- In a secret, one is purposefully withholding information (not saying anything); and in a lie, one is sharing information that is not true (saying* something)
- In both a secret and a lie, the person** is deceiving someone
- In both a secret and a lie, the whole truth is deliberately kept form someone
- In both a secret and lie, the person is betraying the other person
*Saying could also be speaking, writing, doing, etc.
** For sanities sake I will keep person, someone, individual etc. singular but it could be more than one person
It likely goes without saying but I will note it anyway, that the person that is kept in the dark by both a secret and a lie are interested parties - the ones that wish to know the truth. The ones that arguably, should know the truth - the whole truth (yes, I too have the solemn oath running through my head).
The point of lie is deception. It's to lead someone to believe something other than the truth. Given this, by default a secret is a lie. By keeping a secret, and withholding relevant information, you are leading someone to believe something other than the truth.
Both are keeping the other person from knowing the truth.
Ah... But is keeping the truth from someone inherently malevolent?
A few weeks ago, I would have told you that yes, keeping secret or telling a lie is never acceptable. And then...my boyfriend surprised me with an amazing trip that we will be taking to the islands next year. He had this planned and kept this a secret from me for about a month. We even talked about the trip and had decided (or so I thought) that we would pass on this one... save our money for something else and/or a trip in the future. Other people knew about this and they too kept the secret.
I didn't feel betrayed. I wasn't angry or upset in any way by this secret/lie. As you can imagine, I was elated. I bursted into tears of joy and jumped up and down at work when he shared the news with me in order to make my Monday a little better.
So what's the difference here? Is this the quintessential "white lie?"
Alright, we'll take a quick look at the definition of a white lie.
Definition of white lie
:a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person
Hm.... So it wasn't exactly a white lie as he wasn't trying to avoid hurting me. He was however, keeping the information from me to bring me joy.
There are two things that jump out of me in this example that makes it an outlier:
- The intent of the secret/lie was to bring joy
- It was always intended that the truth would be revealed (temporary)
Well that's a little messy isn't it?
What are some of the other reasons that people lie?
One that I think about often is the classic "I did it to protect you."
When we begin to peel the layers off that onion it's nearly impossible to not tear up from the burning of lie within a lie.
You are not protecting someone by not telling the the truth.
No dear, that is a lie you tell yourself. You are attempting to protect yourself from having to deal with whatever it is you are keeping from them. And, you don't trust them enough to handle the truth (yep, I too have Jack Nicholson's face from A Few Good Men in my head).
You're lying to yourself thinking that you are protecting them when ultimately you are afraid of what you may have to do/change/say/confront when the truth is known. You don't want to have to change your behavior or uproot a status quo.
There are few things worse than being kept in the dark about something because someone didn't trust you enough to know the information. Ultimately, the lie itself becomes worse than whatever the lie was about.