Keeping secrets

in OCDlast year

Do you think people can change, do you think dishonest people can become honest in the future? It is something I have been thinking about in the last few days after watching certain people interact with each other and the larger general group.

Imagine you and some of your associates know a secret about someone, something that isn't general knowledge although not very hard to observe if people bothered to put two and two together. Regardless, there is an unspoken rule that the secret must be respected however, that person then uses the same secret as a minimization mechanism after being publicly called out for behaving in a way that the group who protects them would consider poor behaviour. It is an ethical dilemma of sorts. Protect the secret is to condone the poor behaviour, to expose the lie is to break trust.

People put others in these kinds of situations often under the expectation that the social taboo of breaking trust protects them from discovery. It is type of social censorship law that restricts people's behaviour by threatening social ramifications if the law is broken. Say for example if I was in the scenario above as one of the protectors and I broke silence, the rest of the group (even if relieved) will be forced to punish me, probably through ostracization from the group.

It is interesting because those people who would do the punishing would actually be thankful that they no longer have to carry the internal conflict of the lie yet, will still enact the punishment. It is a common treatment that is often applied to whistleblowers and rats. Snitches get stitches, right? It is an interesting dilemma to think about as the further in time the lies travel, the more social responsibility the protectors have to keep their mouths shut as they become complicit, they are accomplices and now protect a socially constructed conspiracy.

The next interesting part is when the person being protected is someone of influence, power or holds higher status for some reason or another. A public figure perhaps. The tendency to protect their reputation and name from harm seems to be much stronger and the secret holders will even rush to their defence even though they know that they are defending a lie or a warped version of the truth. When the person has status (especially when the status is above their own) they are very unwilling to throw their "friend" under the bus. I put the word friend in quotations as what kind of friend would knowingly socially coerce their friends into protecting their own bad behaviour?

Everyone wants to know the truth, everyone wants people to tell the truth. Unless, the truth they must tell is their own or that of someone who they feel obliged to protect. When there is a social cost to telling the truth, people generally choose concealment.

[ an original ]


Gosh, I can't keep secrets! I always have to tell someone and if someone is dishonest I will go and tell the person in his face. Everyone deserves to know the truth. So it you want me to keep a secret, don't ever tell me....ha ha!

"don't tell anyone, but..."