Truth and Secrets

I came across an interesting quote today: The truth of a person is in her secrets. I know this is true of fiction, especially mysteries and suspense. You learn about a character from what they are willing to do to protect their secrets, and what you think they are willing to do. For example, a reader could think a particular character might be willing to kill to protect that secret, but the character would not take a life under any circumstances.

But is this true in real life? Oh, not the killing part, but the bit about the truth of a person being in her secrets. If so, I have no truth because I have no secrets. I have habits I would prefer people didn’t know about, such as an unconscious tendency to bite off hangnails, and while that might tell you more about me than I would like you to know, it’s not exactly a secret except perhaps from me. If I knew I were doing it, I wouldn’t.

I paused here to look up the definition of secret to see if there is a secret to “secret” I didn’t know that would further explain the quote, but no . . . it’s as I thought. A secret is something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others.

Although I might prefer the people I see regularly to know less about me than I disclose here (though surprisingly, it isn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be, and in fact, it’s rather nice not having to talk about the minutiae of my life since they already know it from reading my blog), nothing I write about is a secret. When I was writing about my grief, people offline did not see the same sort of grief in me that I wrote about online, but that’s just the way things were. Even if I was hurting, I generally didn’t show it when I was around people. Like every other griever, I soon learned to hide was I was feeling to protect others from having to deal with my pain as well as to protect myself from their well-meaning (and sometimes not well-meaning) platitudes, such as “You have to move on,” and “You need to get over it.”

But as for secrets? Nope. None.

Some people have accused me of being secretive, confusing secretive with reticent, but the truth is that not everyone deserves to know everything about anyone. There needs to be boundaries, and people who try to look beyond the boundaries aren’t necessarily looking for the truth but are simply being nosy.

I do generally answer direct questions, mostly because I am not as devious as I should be and so don’t lie, nor have I ever learned to graciously deflect questions, but I tend to resent probing questions, and it shows. I don’t ask such questions, either, which becomes a problem when I am talking with someone who thinks that probing questions is how one converses. These people generally don’t want to wait until I volunteer information, which I will when it come up naturally in a conversation without the resentment I feel in an “interrogation.” And they feel belittled because they think I don’t care enough about them to ask them questions.

(Jeff and I were both of the “ask no personal questions” school, and yet over the years, we learned almost everything there was to know about each other, the information coming out in myriad conversations.}

This essay has devolved into a discussion of various means of conversing rather than the topic of the truth being in the secrets, but I suppose the two are opposites sides of the same coin. If you don’t divulge personal information, the other person sees secrets rather than reticence.

But it still doesn’t answer the question about the validity of the quote: the truth of a person in is her secrets. I don’t think it can be true except in the case of someone who is nosy enough to want to invade a person’s privacy. The truth of us might be in our most secret self, but that self is for us to know, not for general consumption.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

8 Responses to “Truth and Secrets”

  1. Estragon Says:

    The words “truth” and “secret” are apparently antithetical. Their use in the quote seems to invite a bit of a dive into the meaning and use of both. Maybe the “secrets” are unknown or unseen to him/her, but reveal the “truth” of him/herself to others?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s hard to know anymore what pedantic sayings mean. I think that’s why they get to me. They are apparently supposed to mean something, but under closer scrutiny don’t mean much of anything.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    With my limited English knowledge I try to analyze.
    If a married man with two children had an accident affair of one night stand with another woman. The woman had a child with this affair and never wanted to tell anyone including the man and her child until her dead. The truth was the man has three children even though the woman point of view it is a secret and a truth. I feel it is not antithetical. I may be wrong. The secret must stay on secret otherwise it is not a secret. If truth is really a truth and everyone can understand their is no more political, religious, and conflicts with couples In the world.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      True. A secret must stay a secret to be a secret, which goes back to my original point that I have no such secrets. Also, it makes me wonder how your analogy fits with the original saying. Would knowing this secret be the truth of her? The truth of her could also be in why she kept it secret. If it was to protect the man, then her true secret could be she loved him. Sounds like a romance novel to me!

  3. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I don’t like asking personal questions but it seems that people often think you are not interested in them or don’t care about them if you don’t ask a lot of questions. I’m not completely happy when I get asked certain things, especially from someone I met five minutes before. just don’t believe they care but lack any other way to make conversation. Some will ask me why I have no children. Even in “this day and age.” I suppose I should have a set of silly replies on hand, that might discourage them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t have any answer to the children question, either. Now I just say “no” and let it go at that. If they push it as they so often do, I try to deflect the question with a shrug or some other noncommittal response. And if they push it beyond that, I walk away, figuring they just told me they’d never be a friend.

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