I will be the first to admit that I’m probably not the most ideal keeper of secrets, largely because the sort of burdens that I have to deal with and that are on my mind tend to come out pretty readily in some fashion, if not directly than at least sideways and indirectly. About the only way to ensure that you and your business do not end up being discussed in some fashion is not to have that business involve my own life, and by the time one is concerned about such a matter it is usually a little bit too late. We live in a world that behaves in an inconsistent manner when it comes to secrets and privacy, and a world that affects a far greater candor than it actually rewards when push comes to shove.
Yesterday a friend of mine wished to honor her recently deceased mother-in-law on Facebook, and after the fact realized that one of her relatives would take the news hard and tried to delete the photo that had clearly revealed the death, only to find that the photo had been shared and was now impossible to entirely delete. An act that had been intended to honor someone ended up being a potential threat to someone’s mental well-being, seeing as they were not already informed of the death of a beloved relative. In my own life I have seen how Facebook photos and the lack of prior warning about important and serious matters can highlight divisions in families and create unnecessary drama, and that is not even considering the fact that people have done (and continue to do) great harm to their reputations, employability, and so on through their posting of photo evidence about their crimes. Some people (who happen not to be terribly bright) even like to post photos of criminal exploits online, almost daring someone to come after them and arrest them. Eventually, someone will.
A few days ago, also on Facebook, I saw that a few friends of mine had liked and commented on a particular item that purported that those people who used swear words were more candid and therefore more trustworthy. This person posted this approvingly, and led me to ponder on at least some of the contradictions in our present culture that abound concerning candor and honesty. As a society, we generally claim to be open-minded and tolerant. One of the harshest things that can be said about someone is that they are closed-minded. On the other hand, we do not consistently reward candor either in our personal lives or within our society. In fact, the prices for candor can be serious, and not only candor about certain sins, but even candor about areas of nobility. After all, if we are truly honest and open, we will not only be open about our vulgarity and crudity (which all of us to some degree possess) but also about such noble and high-minded aspects of our character as well. It is a sad time when our crudity is more tolerated than our nobility.
Yet that is the state of our society. We live in a world where swearing is nearly ubiquitous, and none of us (myself definitely not excepted) is immune from the general state of coarseness of expression, especially in moments of stress or frustration. Likewise, a great deal of crudeness is tolerated and expected in certain places when it comes to speaking of men or women (especially with regards to sexual matters) or when insulting Christianity or biblical law and its moral codes. On the other hand, this candor is not evenly respected. Locker room talk that is highly unobjectionable to some people will be gross sexual harassment to other people. Open and honest talk for some people about religions and ethnic groups will be hate speech for others. If we talked about the Quran the same way that Broadway producers talked about the Book of Mormon, then terrorists of that ilk would feel greatly justified in all manner of atrocities for our supposed disrespect for some supposed prophet whose failure to live up to his own ideals was legendary. And yet because Mormons are far more peaceful and laid-back people than the Muslim “fringe,” there is an inconsistency in the sort of “candor” that we appreciate for both. Those who are more longsuffering end up bearing the brunt of the abuse, at least for now.
In many ways our desire for candor represents a response to the secrecy and corruption that is all around us. It is lamentable that candor starts with ugly conspiratorial lies that are constantly repeated in the name of being open. For example, it is difficult to go for a single day for me without reading some sort of big lie about a Jewish led conspiracy that supposedly dominates the world, a lie as old as Hitler or the Protocols of Zion, a lie existing to justify hatred and contempt and violence towards a group of people that for all of its problems is more godly than most (even if God does not grade on the curve). Likewise, in a world where governments and businesses actively engage in surveillance activities on people, a bit (or more than a bit) of candor can be a very good thing. While we (correctly) suspect governments of harm when they engage in massive data farming on their law-abiding citizens, there are already companies like Amazon.com and Target that have alarmingly accurate knowledge of customer behavior and interests simply through looking at customer purchase records. For example, Target has occasionally let women know they were pregnant in targeted mailings by the items that they purchased when the women themselves did not know, a fairly scary level of knowledge based on data analysis.
And yet we are all, to some extent, rather perturbed by the darkness that is occasionally found in our hearts. We might think that the problems with secrecy and affectations of candor are a problem only in our time, but to some extent they are a problem that has been wrestled with humanity from time immemorial. In the Bible, for example, we read of the snitching and spy networks of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, or Cyrus or Xerxes, kings of Persia. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries in England an insecure monarchy spied as intensely on its own people as the similarly shaky Communist regimes of Eastern Europe in the 20th century. Wherever rulers who have a low degree of civic virtue have a high degree of insecurity, the result will be the use of spying and surveillance techniques on their own people. We ought to see the signs of our times as evidence of the same common thread that has woven its way throughout the dark course of human history, and recognize that even if the technology or the name and face of the ruler changes, the dark heart of mankind does not.
The only way to remain our integrity and preserve the candor we wish to live by (or feel compelled to live by) is to work on improving ourselves from the inside out. That which is honest can be good (if not ever entirely perfect as long as we are fallen and human) so long as we are growing from the inside out and fighting against and overcoming the darkness within our hearts. Even if we will occasionally have to admit to ourselves and others the darkness that we struggle against, if we desire to be open and good, the only solution we have is to examine the deepest aspects of our nature and to receive all the wisdom and assistance from God that we can get. In this world, we need all the help that we can manage, for even if we manage to keep our secrets safe from ourselves, the truth about us is out there too, simply waiting for someone to discover it.