We love secrets when we can call the shots on who and what is being revealed.
But are we ready for disclosure of all secrets, including those of our own?
Part culture shift, part digital phenomena, the curtain that used to protect privacy is fast dissolving.
These days, we discuss WikiLeaks, debate NSA eavesdropping and peer into hidden profiles. We’re no longer surprised when embarrassing photos of public officials or an occasional friend make their way to the open web. Just this week, we learned the sources of over $400 million in “dark money” that influenced the 2012 presidential campaign.
Exposing what was previously concealed leaves us much to view but far more to contemplate.
Are we ready for every secret to be brought to light?
Secrets are as much the domain of families and individuals as they are of churches, corporations and governments. They run the gamut from love affairs and abusive behaviors to breaches of duty, high crimes and treason.
As more secrets are revealed, I’ve observed a simple, yet recurring, theme. We judge secrets not on content but, rather, upon relationships we share with those being exposed.
Translation: it’s not necessarily about the what, it’s about the who.
Doubt me on the bias? Consider Hillary Clinton’s famous attack on “the right wing conspiracy” (and the deafening silence of the women’s movement) when Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades came to light. Republicans, meanwhile, had a field day. They peddled diatribes about Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress and repeatedly called for the President’s impeachment.
Not long afterward, similar news arose about Arnold Schwarzenegger. When a few women stepped forth to claim he extracted sexual favors, conservatives cried foul play. Sean Hannity, one of Clinton’s biggest foes, fawned over Arnold during an exclusive FOX interview. Hannity used the opportunity to denounce mean-spirited Democrats attempting to sully Arnold’s reputation and sabotage his campaign for the California governorship.
The public eventually learned the truth. Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both guilty of similar behaviors. Yet people continue to excuse one man while condemning the other. We’re biased.
We love it when an individual, corporation or religious group we distrust finally gets exposed. We feel justified, empowered and even a bit smug. We label our whistle-blowers as courageous freedom fighters and celebrate their valiance.
But move identical exposures to the institutions we love or the people in whom we trust and suddenly the game – and the bar – changes. When our beloved pets get caught, we attack the messengers and, in the case of politics, make claims for national security.
We consider the content of what’s being exposed only when doing so undermines the standing or authority of our chosen foes. And, we canonize and denigrate the whistle-blowers based on whose trusted leaders or sacred cows come into question. Not many years ago, my daughter asked me to Google “Stockholm Syndrome”. She’d learned of it through a journalism class and thought I’d find it of interest. Though previously unfamiliar with the term, I’d learn of a condition in which hostages express empathy and sympathy toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.
It was a provocative thought. My daughter had already observed the years I’d spent concealing and excusing the poor behavior of others. Somehow, I viewed exposing others as unseemly, unkind and disrespectful.
Even as a corporate manager, I’d deal with wrongful behavior privately. When possible, I’d give errant employees opportunity to avoid embarrassment by tendering their resignation rather than getting fired for cause. Was I biased in my own way?
At some visceral level, I know the pain and fear that accompanies the generating and keeping of secrets. For some, it’s been a matter of having done something they would later regret. Others carry a heavy weight: they’ve witnessed someone’s wrongful behavior and remain silent, often intimidated by authority.
Finally, there are those who knowingly choose roads of brazen entitlement. Their willfulness and deliberate actions seriously injure their fellow man. These days, we don’t have to be rich or famous to find our private life made public and our secrets brought to light. We wonder if there is any person, institution or entity truly insulated from potential exposure. Open secrets is a growing reality in this Brave New World.
As we move forward, will we react based on favoritism or will we measure and evaluate what’s come forth objectively? Will we continue pandering to our own interests or look for ways to become a better people?
If we are to embrace the times, advance society and rise up to new levels of sunshine, may we also learn to equitably apply our judgment and exercise a little more grace.
Next time we judge, may we aim to balance the scales as in the image above.
There are more secrets waiting to come to light – and one of them might be our own!
Maura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
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