Secrets

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Yesterday I saw a headline that mentioned something like “learning about the secret lives of our ancestors”. It prompted me to think about how often the word “secret” is used, and how once whatever ‘secret’ is divulged, the secret ceases to exist. We’ve just revealed it by stating that whatever follows was once secret. I read a lot of articles in which the writer cites his/her secret love for something, e.g. something like, “My secret love for all things pony”. Yes, perhaps it was a secret until you put it in writing for the world to read. (I am sure I have been guilty of using “secret” this way, too, but the fact that it irks me isn’t new.)

And is the word ‘secret’ always appropriate? That is, aren’t the lives of long-gone predecessors unknown, forgotten or even hidden by time or history rather than secret? Doesn’t the hidden information within a secret – at least the way we use it in modern language – imply intent to keep it hidden?

Other Selves: Understanding the Difference between Privacy and Secrecy

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Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.

I stumbled across an article about the nature of affairs – how happily married people often “cheat”. It was an interesting article in general, but what struck me fundamentally were the ideas that underpin so many other aspects of life – not just romantic relationships. I debate quite frequently, as I have written about before, about the difference between privacy and secrecy and where that boundary is. What kind of information – how much information – do I owe someone just because they have asked, just because of the nature of our interaction (i.e., do I tell a potential employer X, do I keep Y private, do I reveal those same Xs and Ys to my husband or wife or potential husband or wife?)? Is total openness and transparency required – and what are the rules governing this? Are there any? In my case, there are a lot of things that are deeply private for me, but keeping them private is not always all about me if I have invited someone else into my life.

“Transparency is the whole culture. The way a regular person tells everything about themselves on television. The way technology allows us to find out anything—99 percent of the people I see, their affairs are discovered through email or phones. But transparency is also our organizing principle of closeness these days. I will tell you everything, and if I don’t tell you it means I don’t trust you or I have a secret. It doesn’t mean I choose to keep certain things to myself because they are private. Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.”

Of course some private things are personal and don’t involve anyone else. But then other people and their expectations and feelings are a part – is there not some responsibility there? As this article on affairs – and the reasons underlying affairs – argues, there is “…a distinction between cheating and non-monogamy. Cheating is about a violation of a contract. People misunderstand me because they think I’m saying affairs are OK. No! But I do think examining monogamy is our next frontier.”

Is examining monogamy really the next frontier? The article explains the researcher’s point of view – that at one time, premarital sex was also considered to be wrong and not a topic for consideration or debate. Is this the next logical step? Maybe not just monogamy but in a broader scope, marriage. What is marriage, how is it defined – not just by society but by negotiation between an individual couple?

Today, as the article discusses, “We have this idea that our partner is our best friend, that there is one person who will fulfill all our needs, which is really an extraordinary idea! So by definition, people must transgress because something is missing at home. We think, if you had what you needed at home, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, instead of thinking that marriage is at best an imperfect arrangement.”

Maybe nothing is missing from a relationship or marriage at all that leads a party to the relationship to cheat. The most important takeaway from the article, actually, is a point that is applicable across life’s activities: Affairs are often not about wanting someone else but wanting to be someone else ourselves:

“Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

This being me, I immediately think of a poem.

I Can Not
-Anna Swir (Poland)

I envy you.
Every moment.

You can leave me.
I can not leave myself.

Is that the feeling behind these urges to have affairs? Not to leave one’s partner but to leave oneself? Or the oneself one is or has become within that particular relationship?

The changing workscape: Secrecy v privacy / Pretty time bomb

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I respectfully decline to answer that question. It is, if not illegal to ask, rather inappropriate.

Sitting in a job interview, growing more awkward and uncomfortable by the minute, I felt as though I was backed right into a corner.

Quite a long while ago, I applied for a job, was invited to an interview and circumstances in my life changed quite rapidly, and I needed to cancel the interview. I called to cancel well in advance of the scheduled interview time and offered no other explanations – because I don’t think you owe any explanation to a potential employer if you’re not planning to work there.

When circumstances changed dramatically again a few weeks later, I contacted the company again because I noticed that the job was still advertised and rescheduled the interview. I knew that it was probably a bit unorthodox of me – and if they did not want to give me a chance, they could have refused to reschedule the interview. No harm, no foul. But they seemed happy to give me a new opportunity, so I went to a series of interviews.

In the first interview, the hiring manager and the HR director were sitting across from me, and the HR person asked me why I had cancelled the first interview. Fair enough. I anticipated that they would ask me something like that. I replied only that my personal circumstances had changed, the issues that prevented me from attending the original interview were behind me and that the reasons behind all of it were private.

Somehow this was not a good enough explanation, and the HR guy grabbed onto this like a dog with a bone. Throughout the interview, even though I think I defused the question tactfully enough (in a way that should have shut the question down). The HR guy continued to poke and prod, even long after I thought the question had been answered and put to rest. It was as though it would suddenly pop back up again, and some nagging feeling in his gut would jump to his mouth, and he was physically unable to stop asking.

He started questioning my statement about “privacy”, claiming that it felt as though I was “keeping secrets”. But there is a big difference between privacy and secrecy. Which I stated at the time. The questioning escalated in offensiveness and discomfort, making me consider – in the moment – that I was not sure I wanted to work somewhere where an HR professional was so hell-bent on knowing personal information that had no bearing on my potential as an employee that he would veer into very uncomfortable territory to get it.

My workplace experience has mostly happened in the US where this kind of prodding would be dead wrong under any circumstances. Whole articles are written about illegal job interview questions. To be frank, I don’t know what is illegal versus just awkward in a Swedish workplace – but I would think that someone in a managerial role in human resources should have the tact and sensitivity to stop pushing when something is clearly not work-related.

The worst thing – when I was called in for follow-up interviews the next week, I assumed that the issue was settled. But no, the same HR person brought up the same pushy questions the next time, and then I felt really backed into a corner. I tried to remain tactful in conveying that I felt the question was answered as much as it was ever going to be. But his continued insistence felt like lighting the fuse on a time bomb.

Eventually I was hired and accepted the job despite these misgivings. This whole scene sort of plays into my feelings about HR in general – how is it that the one department that is meant to be the most in tune with people and the legalities of hiring could be the worst at dealing with people?