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.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you didn't need to know." OR "Because you never asked."
It's not your job to decide if someone needs to know something when they are involved in the situation. If it crosses your mind to tell them then chances are - you should tell them the truth. And when you choose to keep it a secret (lie) then chances are - the truth will come out eventually.
You know that sinking feeling when that happens to you? The why didn't they just tell me? The why didn't they trust me enough to be able to handle this? Why didn't they feel safe enough to talk to me?
When you don't trust someone enough to handle the truth you are making a decision on their behalf and belittling their ability to rise above your expectations.
What if they don't handle the truth? Then you have bigger problems and you should be glad you now have the opportunity to address them.
Infidelity and family affairs are likely on our minds at this point. I don't think this means we are all cynical humans - I think it's because it's with the people we love the most that a lie hurts the most.
The situations like:
- Finding out your significant other frequents a grocery store across from town so that they can visit with their ex with the intent of seeing if they can get back together
- Finding out your significant other and your best friend have been romantically talking and spending time together
- Finding out well into adulthood that you were adopted
- Finding out you have half-siblings from a parent's affair 10 years ago
These situations happen. And whether you tell the truth or lie - there is hurt and/or confusion. The difference is when the truth is revealed, a whole lot of hurt and confusion can be spared and a conversation can be had. That doesn't mean you'll be surrounded by rainbows and flowers after the fact, but you will be able to move forward.
There is an outlier banging at my door. I was talking about writing this with my sister and brother-in-law a couple of weeks ago and we got on the subject of ... "ok what about ones that really are to protect someones feelings... ?"
The example of a person dying. The person dying asks, "Am I going to die?" You say: "No, you are not going to die." But you know that they are going to die. But you don't want to cause them more pain so you lie. Is this justified? Is this an "OK lie?" One that is helping them? Is this the accepted white lie?
The natural response is that yes, of course it is OK. You were bringing them peace and comfort. You truly were protecting them.
I'm going to challenge this a bit.
What if... you told them the truth to bring them peace and comfort?
"Yes, you are going to die. And I don't know what is going to happen to you but right here - right now, you are loved by me and so many others. You are not alone."
I realize that is radical and I'm writing this while sitting on my couch with my coffee and Wille Nelson on and very from from that tragic situation.
Would I lie in that situation? I'm not sure. But I will tell you that I'm going to ponder it some more.
I'll leave you with this:
If there is a lie weighing heavy on your shoulders ask yourself:
- Am I lying to bring joy to the person I'm lying to?
- Am I protecting myself but hurting another by not revealing the truth?
- Can I trust them enough to handle the truth?