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Can You Keep a Secret?


Justin_Case001

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Most of us have been asked this question by a friend at least once in our lives.  Seems like a simple yes or no, right?  Wrong.  Although it's astronomically unlikely that anyone would ever ask me this question again, if anyone actually asked me, "can you keep a secret?", my response would be, "that's complicated", and I would then explain to them what I'm about to explain to you.

But before we get into it, I'd like to tell you about our new merch!

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Yeah right.  Lol.  :ButtercupLaugh:

Okay, so anyway...

I've made my position on lying clear somewhere or other on these forums, but let's recap it here.  I believe that lying is on the continuum of violence.  What I mean by this is that lying could, from a certain point of view, be considered violence is most mild form.  This means that, in my opinion, the only times when lying is permissible and ethical is in situations when physical force could become necessary to defend yourself or others from harm.  If you're faced with a dangerous assailant of some type, you're going to try lying your way out if possible before it comes to blows.  This interpretation would obviously account for all situations in which dishonesty is necessary to protect people from harm and danger.  As an example, if you were sheltering Anne Frank in your basement, and the Nazis came-a-knockin', you're obviously going to lie to them.

It is my strongly held belief that truly healthy interpersonal relationships cannot exist without complete honesty.  I believe that lying is completely corrosive to all interpersonal relationships, even well intended, so-called "white lies".  Lying to spare someone's feelings can be tempting, and it may seem compassionate, but it only establishes that the person can never truly be trusted to give an honest opinion.  Lies, even the most well-intended, create needless complications and potential hurt feelings.  A commitment to complete honesty opens many doors in one's life, and grants incredible liberty and clarity.  If you simply decide that you're never going to lie, it cuts drama and toxicity out of your life and reveals who your true friends are.  The people who can't handle honest relationships will fade away, and your remaining relationships will be greatly strengthened.  There is something indescribably powerful and wonderful in simply knowing that you can truly trust a person, and that they can trust you.  Knowing that a given person will never lie to you, nor you to them, is deeply profound, and is absolutely vital for a truly connected, healthy relationship.

Now, I'm not going to get into the ethics/necessity of lying in the context of business, governance, or foreign policy.  Ideally, we should live in a world of corporate and government transparency, and complete global cooperation.  Instead, we live in a competitive world.  I don't see how complete governmental and international honesty would work in the world that we have.  It's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is right now.  Hopefully, if we survive, maybe we'll have a better world in future centuries.  I'm speaking mostly about interpersonal relationships here.

When hearing this view on lying, most people will immediately recoil and try to defend the position that all people lie, that white lies are necessary, and that some amount of lies are even necessary in a marriage, and that if you don't believe that, then you're just a naive fool who's never been married and doesn't understand how the game is played.  I'm not going to spend a great deal of time addressing this, other than to say that viewpoint is demonstrably, categorically bullsh*t.  Full stop.  If you don't believe that a healthy marriage means and honest one, then you're the one that understand how relationships really work.  People also claim that honesty is difficult, and that lying is easier.  That's also completely false, and a greatly confused viewpoint.  Honesty is much easier.  Really.  I can honestly say that there's nothing difficult about honesty.  You just say what you think and feel, and what you believe to be true.  You don't have to invent, concoct, or organize stories, think up excuses, or keep track of your lies.  You just speak your mind.  What could be simpler?  A belief that honesty is more difficult simply boils down to fear--fear of what others will think if they know the true you.  But wouldn't you rather weed out the people who don't actually like the real you and find out who your friends really are, rather than surround yourself with phony friends who only like you based on lies?  I certainly would.  Honesty is remarkably easier, simpler, and more refreshing than most people believe.

But does a commitment to complete honesty mean that one has to broadcast every single thought in their mind and open every second of their life for all to see?  Of course not.  Good Celestia no.  And this is where I finally explain my answer to the opening question.  I don't believe that secrets are ever ethical.  This is because there is something vastly different between secrecy, and privacy.  Privacy is the honest and ethical withholding of information that no one else's business.  There is nothing dishonest about privacy.  Privacy is simply declining to provide information because it's your own personal business, and not something that others need to know.  We are all entitled to privacy.  It's our prerogative as human beings to decide how much of our lives to share and with whom.  One need not ever tell a falsehood in order to maintain privacy.

On the other hand, secrecy, I would argue, is the unethical, deceptive withholding of information.  There is something fundamentally suspect about secrecy.  To me, secrecy inherently implies deception.  The key difference between privacy and secrecy is that on top of withholding information, you have the added layer of denying that there is any information being withheld.  It seems to me that the only reason to keep a secret would be for some kind of nefarious purpose, or because you don't want others to know who really are, or what you've done, and if that's the case, then you should reexamine your life.  If you're withholding information in an interpersonal relationship, and denying that there's any information being withheld, then that is by definition deceptive, unethical, and harmful, and that's what secrecy is.  I believe that there are many cases in which people confuse or conflate secrecy and privacy.  There many be cases in which a friend asked you to keep a secret, but it was actually just a case of privacy, which is harmless.

If a friend asked me if I could keep a secret, I would have to explain to them the difference between secrecy and privacy, and then ask them which it is that we're talking about.  If if's privacy, then I can take it to my grave if that's your wish.  Here's an example: let's say I have a gay friend who's still in the closet, and they come out to me, but they ask me not to tell anyone else because they're not ready nor comfortable.  No problem.  That's no one else's business anyway.  It's private.  I have no problem keeping my mouth shut about that for as long as I live, should they never decide to come out to anyone else.  That wouldn't be a burden to me at all.

However, if the information they want to divulge is something intetionally deceptive that could hurt someone, then that's where we have a problem.  You wanna tell me that you're cheating on your partner, or you've gambled away your life savings and are hiding it from your partner?  No, I can't and won't keep that secret.  That would weight on my conscience.

It is often said that everybody has secrets.  Not true.  I don't.  I have private matters, but not secrets.  I cannot engage in secrecy.  I think The Office put it best: "secrets, secrets, are no fun; secrets, secrets, hurt someone."

Wait, wait--I have one more.  Privacy is good, secrets are bad... unless they're Victoria's!  ;)

Okay, I'm done.  :laugh:

 

Edited by Justin_Case001

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One need not ever tell a falsehood in order to maintain privacy.

If I asked you if you an embarrassing question that violated your privacy, you could lie and say "no." Or you could say, "none of your business," which will make people think the answer is yes. You could then get into an argument with them and try to explain that "I cannot confirm or deny" is not technically the same thing as saying "yes," but you will never win that argument. It is easier to say "no" because you have plausible deniability. It doesn't matter what is true, what matters is what people think is true.

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let's say I have a gay friend who's still in the closet, and they come out to me, but they ask me not to tell anyone else because they're not ready nor comfortable

If someone asked you, "You know Jim pretty well, is he gay?" You could answer, "I don't know" but you know how people might interpret that. Saying, "No, he's not gay," is believable and better maintains his privacy.

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You wanna tell me that you're cheating on your partner, or you've gambled away your life savings and are hiding it from your partner?  No, I can't and won't keep that secret

Usually it is better to not get involved in someone else's business, even if you know the truth. Let sleeping dogs lie. No good deed goes unpunished. Would you really proactively tell a friend's girlfriend that he is cheating on her? That's gonna get you in a heap of trouble. 

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I have private matters, but not secrets. 

Is planning a surprise party private, or secret?

Edited by Patriotic Brony 42
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Knowing that a given person will never lie to you, nor you to them, is deeply profound, and is absolutely vital for a truly connected, healthy relationship.

Except that you can never know that. If someone says "I swear to all that is holy to never ever lie to you", how do you know you can believe them?

Pure honesty may work in some very limited situations between like-minded people, but you can be taken advantage of very easily. 

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Here's an example: let's say I have a gay friend who's still in the closet, and they come out to me, but they ask me not to tell anyone else because they're not ready nor comfortable.  No problem.

If I ask you directly if that person is gay, it means I already suspect him of being gay  If you say "no" or "I don't know, we never talked about this", I might believe you, if you say "none of your business" or "I cannot confirm or deny" it's as good as confirming it. So, your options are to either lie and protect the privacy of your friend or avoid outright lying and betray your friend.

This is the problem of trying speak like a politician to not technically lie.

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You wanna tell me that you're cheating on your partner, or you've gambled away your life savings and are hiding it from your partner?  No, I can't and won't keep that secret. 

And if you tell the partner this, they both will hate you for it, because they will see you as the trigger that destroyed their relationship. Better keep silent and let their relationship fall part on its own (or maybe it won't), because in that case you will not destroy your friendship with them.

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Lying to spare someone's feelings can be tempting, and it may seem compassionate, but it only establishes that the person can never truly be trusted to give an honest opinion.  Lies, even the most well-intended, create needless complications and potential hurt feelings.

And yet, saying the honest truth may upset the person too much and may cause them to do something stupid. Especially if the person does not share your belief about honesty and may think that what you say is you trying to make it better (so, the "truth" must be even worse).

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On 2022-09-22 at 1:18 AM, Pentium100 said:

Except that you can never know that.

You can, but it takes a very rare kind of person.  I have that relationship with my parents, and yes, we absolutely do know.

On 2022-09-22 at 1:18 AM, Pentium100 said:

Better keep silent and let their relationship fall part on its own (or maybe it won't), because in that case you will not destroy your friendship with them.

I couldn't really be friends with anyone keeping harming secrets anyway.  I just can't have those sorts of people in my life, so destroying the friendship is a moot point.  The weight on my conscious would be worse.

On 2022-09-22 at 1:18 AM, Pentium100 said:

If I ask you directly if that person is gay, it means I already suspect him of being gay

On 2022-09-21 at 7:46 PM, Patriotic Brony 42 said:

If someone asked you, "You know Jim pretty well, is he gay?"

The case of someone asking me if so-and-so is gay point blank is a tough one, I'll grant you that.  But here's the thing--if Jim (let's just call him Jim) is gay and doesn't want me to tell anyone, a lot would depend on exactly why he doesn't want anyone to know.  Do Jim and I live in rural Alabama?  Russia?  Afghanistan?  If so, then keeping his orientation a secret may actually be a matter of physical safety for Jim.  He might be physically harassed at school or work, beaten up, or worse if the wrong people found out.  Therefore, this falls well within the ethical case of lying.  Remember--lying is always ethical and justified when it's to prevent violence.  Now, if those things aren't a concern, and it's just me and Jim's best friend who asks me point blank, and I know that that friend isn't a bigoted jerk, then it's kind of a tougher call.  I'd have to think for awhile if there's an answer that isn't a falsehood, doesn't betray Jim's confidence, and doesn't cause the other party to assume that Jim must be gay.  Surely there's some combination of words that would do the trick.

On 2022-09-21 at 7:46 PM, Patriotic Brony 42 said:

Would you really proactively tell a friend's girlfriend that he is cheating on her? That's gonna get you in a heap of trouble. 

Well, a lot depends of what kind of people they are, and what I suspect they might do, etc.  I mean, all bets are off if it's self-defensive and I think these are potentially violent people who might do something dangerous if I piss them off.  If that's the case, then I will lie until my pants are on fire, get the fuck outta there and ghost them for the rest of my life.

If I know for sure that they're not dangerous folk, then yeah I probably would.

On 2022-09-21 at 7:46 PM, Patriotic Brony 42 said:

Is planning a surprise party private, or secret?

Hmm.  That's a tough one.  I think you got me.  I guess it's a secret, but I'll gladly carve out and exemption for secrets that are for the express purpose of creating fun and joy for the person, and are fully intended to be revealed at an opportune moment.  A surprise party or gift is something that you want the other person to know about... just not until the right moment.  That's totally different from something that you never want them to know, which is the harmful kind of secret.

Incidentally, I HATE surprises of any kind.  (Well, I mean... like, the kind people plan for you.)  I also hate giving and receiving gifts.  Any potential partner for me would have to sign off on that.  Heh--good luck with that, right?

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51 minutes ago, Justin_Case001 said:

a lot would depend on exactly why he doesn't want anyone to know.

No, that shouldn't matter, unless someone is wanting you to cover for a crime. His reason shouldn't matter. If he doesn't want someone to know, then you respect that.

Me: "Justin, is Jim gay?"

Justin:
People Are Shocked To Discover That Confused Meme Isn't Julia Roberts

When one asks questions expecting to elicit a specific reply vis a vis the stated question at hand, one expects a certain fidelity in the information gleaned, which implies a certain assumed integrity of the one being queried. This is not to say that one doesn't expect such level of verisimilitude in one's other avenues of investigative endeavors. Verily, how can one but wonder at the trustability of one's own senses. For was it not Plato who posited that perhaps all we see is but a shadow of a deeper reality? Indeed, how can but a mere mortal know absolute truth in a world effused with ambiguity and, dare I say, intentional deception? But what is truth, after all? Are we not but vessels composed of stellar flotsam; an amalgamation of the very atoms which themselves have an inherent quantum uncertainty? Shall I question Schrodinger himself, who proved an inherent uncertainty woven into the very fabric of reality itself? Who are you, my good sir, to have the audacity, the bold faced hubris, to assert such certainty in a world so uncertain! Madness, madness it is I say!"

Me: ".........."

Justin: "Yeah, he's gay."

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2 hours ago, Justin_Case001 said:

Now, if those things aren't a concern, and it's just me and Jim's best friend who asks me point blank, and I know that that friend isn't a bigoted jerk, then it's kind of a tougher call.

Maybe the person who asked you is a bit bigoted, but will not beat Jim up, instead just laugh at him or tell everyone that Jim is gay, which may result in the information reaching his parents, boss etc - people that Jim was most worried about finding out. He still may not be beaten up, but it may damage his relationships with those people and he would be very upset that you betrayed his confidence.

2 hours ago, Justin_Case001 said:

Surely there's some combination of words that would do the trick.

You are either lying or you betray his confidence. Maybe his reason for not wanting everyone to know is stupid, but it is still his reason and his decision, not yours. I do not think anybody is going to ask you "Do you think X is gay?" about every one of your friends. The question itself means that whoever is asking has suspicions about "Jim" being gay and if you definitely know that his is gay, saying anything else ("no", "I don't know for sure, but I don't think so" etc) is a lie, because you do know.

What is worse is that Jim may know about your dislike of secrets and not tell you, but then later you find out the truth by yourself (or from someone else) and now have to keep a secret without a prior agreement.

2 hours ago, Justin_Case001 said:

I couldn't really be friends with anyone keeping harming secrets anyway.  I just can't have those sorts of people in my life, so destroying the friendship is a moot point.  The weight on my conscious would be worse.

1) how would you know?
2) what would be your opinion about "Jim" if he lied to you and said that he was not gay? Maybe he did it because he knew about your dislike of secrets. Let's assume Jim would not be beaten up if people knew, just that he does not want people to know. Maybe he thinks he'll be ridiculed for it (nobody knows if it would happen or not, but he is afraid of it) etc.

What about company or state secrets? Just like with the example above, it is sometimes possible to figure out the truth based on "can neither confirm nor deny" and similar answers, because normally people do not say that.

I think the Babylon 5 episode "Rumors, bargains and lies" (S04E13) is kind-of fitting this topic. 

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