The importance of keeping secrets.
“To keep your own secrets is wisdom; but to expect others to keep them is folly.”
- William Scott Downey
Secrets are powerful things. There are many reasons why people have and keep secrets – some healthy and some not-so-healthy. Let’s talk about the difference between the two – a healthy secret is one where no one will be or is being hurt. An example might be what you are getting someone for their birthday or who you have a crush on. An unhealthy secret is (as you might have guessed) one where someone is being or will be hurt. An example might be knowing someone is being abused, but not telling anyone or knowing someone is hurting themselves (i.e., starving themselves to lose weight) and not letting others know they need help.
The takeaway message from this section is healthy secrets can and should be kept while unhealthy secrets need to be shared with people who can help. When I was in middle school, a friend (I’ll call her Becky) shared with a few of us that her mother was sometimes violent with her. I had no clue what to do and because I was unsure, I did nothing. Another friend did the right thing and went to the school counselor to ask for help. The counselor then took the lead in talking with Becky and her mother and managed the situation for us. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses and Becky was definitely pissed off for violating her trust, but it was definitely the right thing to do. I was not a good friend when I kept this secret. She (and her mother) could have gotten seriously hurt and/or in trouble.
A different situation presented itself with my daughter a few weeks ago. She shared with me that her friend (I’ll call her Beth) shared with her she was upset with a third friend (Michelle), but asked my daughter to keep it a secret. My daughter shared the situation with me and wanted to know if I thought she should intervene with Michelle on Beth’s behalf. We talked about whether anyone was getting hurt in the situation and risks and benefits on intervening or keeping the secret. We agreed keeping Beth’s secret was of no harm to anyone and helped my daughter to keep a healthy promise to her friend. Not all secrets are bad, even when they involve emotional upset.
“If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing it to the trees.”
- Kahlil Gibran
How do you decide when (and with whom) you are going to share your own secrets. Sometimes it feels better to talk about things and share them with others. You should know that you cannot unring a bell. What does this mean? Simple, once you have shared information with someone, you cannot take it back. Any information you put out there, you run the risk of it taking on a life of its own. You either need to trust the person explicitly or you need to be comfortable with the possibility they may tell someone (or several someones) your secret. Choose wisely and carefully.
There is a reason Benjamin Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”