There are some people who simply cannot be trusted to keep their mouths shut and who continually blow their own cover. To give one example, in the mid-1990’s, singer R. Kelly sang a song called Down Low (Nobody Has To Know). This particular phrase has a particular meaning, specifically concerning immoral relations that have to be kept private. However much Mr. Kelly may have desired to express that sentiment, few people on the face of this earth are more poorly equipped to keep anything on the down low than R. Kelly. This is a man who not only does things that most people would prefer to keep private about, but he is the sort of man to sing about them, to make epic 20-part songs with almost operatic complexity about them, and to put them on video. One can proclaim that one wants to keep things on the down low, but for that, nobody needs to know.
Today while I was at work, and I was busy with my reports as usual, my neighbor was talking with a customer on the phone about his personal life. This is not unusual, but in this particular case, my neighbor ended up blowing his own cover. While talking on the phone about his girlfriend, he let it slip that he was now engaged to be married, and was trying to get married within the next few months, before the end of the year if all goes well. In his life, unfortunately, not all tends to go well. I sent him a chat message congratulating him, but he told me he was trying to keep it private. Of course, it is a lot easier to keep your personal business private when you don’t actually talk about it at work, because I would not have known that he was engaged to a girlfriend of three months that he had known for almost two decades, and who had a son who apparently considers my coworker to be a sort of father figure, unless he had mentioned it. Had he actually kept it private, I would have known nothing about it, after all, given that I am not particularly nosy about the private lives of other people.
Some people, though, are better able to keep their business on the down low than either R. Kelly or my next door neighbor. I once knew a single mother who rekindled a relationship with an old flame, got engaged, and then married about six weeks later at the county courthouse all without her parents or children knowing about it until after the fact. However one may feel about the quick turnaround from starting a courtship anew to engagement to marriage, as well as the privacy that went into it, there is something admirable about someone who can actually keep something like that private, even if one wishes that this level of secrecy had been merited, since one generally associates its need with decisions that are ill-advised. I suppose that she felt similar to my coworker in that she was so concerned with disapproval of her decision that she thought it better simply to say nothing to anyone rather than deal with conflict or disapproval until the act was a fait accompli that would compel acceptance.
It is not only personal relationships that are conducted in great secrecy. The drafting of the United States Constitution was done in secrecy, because it was thought that it may be considered treasonous to have openly advocated for the scrapping of the nation’s governing documents, which had been found to be unworkable, and their replacement by other means. The secrecy that the Constitutional Convention took ended up being a mixed blessing–on the one hand, people are more free to be candid and honest when they are anonymous than when their name is attached to something that is in the public sphere, but on the other hand engaging in secret behaviors does not inspire trust in an atmosphere where trust is at a premium. The question remains: what is more important to us, that we build trust with other people who we fear may be in disagreement with our goals and plans, or do we live a life that is open and transparent and above board, even if this requires the admission, from time to time, of awkward and uncomfortable truths? There are no easy answers, or paths without risk either to our reputation or, perhaps more importantly, to our sacred honor.