The Treasure of a Secret

"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
-Benjamin Franklin
As a general rule, I don't trust people. This doesn't mean that I think everything everyone says is a lie, or even that almost everything everyone says is a lie, although I should probably discuss that in a future post. What this means is that I really don't tell people secrets. Any secrets. I am rather open about myself in general, because I don't have many secrets. But those few secrets I have are treasures that I guard. Not because I don't want you to know, of course. I'd be perfectly fine if you found out. Except that I don't trust you. Which means that I can't tell you. Sorry. In this post, I'll explain in further detail why I don't believe that people are trustworthy, and what could be done to change this.

To start off, I should make a clarification. As a general rule, I don't trust people. But, this is just a generality. That is to say, there are exceptions. Those exceptions are based off of what I know of the people, and how much I find out indirectly from other people. No, this doesn't mean that I gossip about them. This means that I talk to them. Imagine that I am talking to friend Alfred about topic Applesauce. We're having a friendly conversation that doesn't involve any real secrets. Sometime later, friend Bertha comes along and says, "You really think [insert opinion here] about Applesauce?" Now, this isn't a particularly big deal. After all, there were no secrets involved. But it does make me uncomfortable. Why? Because this means that Albert was talking to Bertha about me while I wasn't there. Were they just talking about Applesauce and my name came up? It's possible. In fact, it's likely. But my name was mentioned, rather than, "I have a friend who thinks [insert opinion here]." Which means there are a few possibilities. One is that more about me came up when my name was mentioned. Unlikely, but possible. But another possibility, far more likely, is that I was misrepresented. Albert spoke what my opinion was, but he spoke it from his own viewpoint. If he thought my opinion was stupid, he would have made me sound stupid for believing it while he was talking about the subject. If, on the other hand, he thought that my opinion was intelligent, he would have made me to seem intelligent. He may have even quoted- or misquoted- something that I said in our conversation. Even if he went back to find the conversation to be sure that he got the right words, he was taking it out of context, though the context may have seemed unimportant.

For these reasons, I don't like it when one person learns things about me from any person besides myself. I am guaranteed to be misrepresented, even if only slightly. Words may be twisted, phrases changed, and ideas called into question. Even in a situation where I am represented relatively well, I am still subject to Bertha's interpretation of Albert's interpretation of me. Kind of like the game Telephone. The first person whispers a phrase in the second person's ear. The second person repeats the same phrase to person three. It goes all the way around the circle until the last person says aloud what phrase they heard. The first person speaks the original phrase as well. The two phrases are typically very different. Interpretation upon interpretation upon interpretation. When this happens with people, I worry about what impression people are getting of me.

But, like I said before, it's not really a big deal. There was nothing secret involved, and I'm sure that nothing happened that would scar Bertha's opinion of me. It's a bit uncomfortable, but that's all. The real reason that any of this matters is because it tells me something about Albert. It tells me that he is quick to give away information. He gave my name, or enough information to tell that it was me, rather than just saying "I have a friend." It could be that Bertha asked, of course, which means that one scenario isn't going to tell me anything. But what if this happens over and over again? If, consistently, people come to me saying, "Albert told me [insert statement here]," then I know something about Albert. It doesn't mean that I hate him or that he's not my friend, of course. Odds are that if I talk to him all that much, I actually enjoy his company. What it means is that I'm not going to be able to talk to him about secrets. Not because he would intentionally give it away, but because he's used to giving away information by habit.

If I talk to someone and seem to trust them so far, I may tell them about something that needs to be kept quiet. Something that isn't really a secret, but that I still don't want spread around. At this point, mutual friends will begin defending the secret-keeping abilities of their friends. But in my eyes, this does more harm than good. "I'm sure Andrew just let it slip. It wasn't intentional." "Beth and Caroline are best friends, so she had to tell her because she tells her everything, but don't worry, she's trustworthy." Everybody seems trustworthy to somebody. But I don't know Caroline, and Andrew's job is to not let it slip. There's a saying that I heard when I was competing in Speech&Debate. "How you practice is how you perform." If something is to be kept quiet, that doesn't mean that you can tell people but can't shout it from the rooftops. If everybody only tells one person, eventually everybody will know. It's to be kept quiet, meaning, I don't want people talking about it, but I thought that you should know. So Andrew let it slip, showing that, although I'm sure he had the best of intentions and will still be my friend, I apparently can't trust him with a secret. And Beth told Caroline, who I either don't know, or didn't trust enough to tell in the first place. Either way, she shouldn't be told. But I now know that anything Beth hears, Caroline hears. Do I trust Caroline? If I had, I would have told her myself or told Beth that she could tell Caroline. In some situations, this type of thing is understandable. For example, with a married couple, it would be expected that they not keep secrets from eachother. But even then, when telling someone something, they need to take into account if they trust both their friend and their friend's spouse.

This is why I don't trust people. In each case, you have to decide if you trust not only the person's intentions, but also their ability to keep it from slipping, their ability to keep secret the fact that they have a secret in the first place, as well as their willingness to tell the people that they trust, and their willingness to trust people at all. Each of these factors, at the minimum, must be weighed before trusting someone. When these factors aren't taken into account, secrets are lost.
"What happened down in the dungeons ... is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows."
-Dumbldore (by J.K. Rowling)
Even among those with good intentions, all it takes is for one person to slip. Even if Dilbert needs to be told, it's best that I tell him in my way, rather than that he hear in a biased way. And if Dilbert doesn't need to be told, it's best that he not know. As a society, we must treat information as a treasure. At times, it makes sense to give out information. Not everything is a secret. But we've grown accustomed to giving out information when it isn't needed- specifically, information about other people. While it often isn't too much of an issue, it forms habits that are hard to break. These habits escalate without our realization, and form unintentional gossip. In order to break the habit, we must view secrets as the treasure that they really are. Even though your bestie may be trustworthy, you're not giving her a piece of your own treasure, you're giving her someone else's treasure.
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."
-William Shakespeare

1 comment:

  1. There is an innate curiosity that makes humans tick. It pushes innovation and growth on a personal level. It helps people understand themselves and others better. I think the sharing of information is generally a very good thing.

    Also, if Dilbert doesn't need to know something you know... well... who is it that gets to decide that? Information that is not labelled as a secret may be shared, not because of a lack of trustworthiness, but because of generosity or a desire to be helpful. Assuming what we have the ability or right to say what information others need, or what their motivations are for sharing, can cause as much hurt as revealing a secret.