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.