Monday, July 30, 2012

Sharing Secrets

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Josh Kiel

In the course of life we accumulate a set of experiences that shape the way we interpret our lives. When interacting with each other we use these experiences to relate.  We build understanding through our shared relationships. At the same time, there are some things that we keep entirely to ourselves. Secrets, those experiences which we’d rather not share and that we’d rather not have others know we’ve experienced at all. 

I’m of the opinion that we can’t ever fully understand another human being. Since we’re all unique individuals it is absurdly hard to come close to a full understanding of each other. This often leads to a sense of loneliness stemming from the knowledge that we neither can understand another or be fully understood. If that statement depresses you, I’ve included a picture of a puppy.

Part of my weekly routine includes a visit to the PostSecret website which offers the opportunity to momentarily, but profoundly bridge that gap of understanding between myself and individuals I have never and will never meet. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with PostSecret, it’s essentially a community art project where people decorate and mail a postcard containing one of their secrets to organizer Frank Warren of Maryland who puts them up on his site for the entire world to see and consume. Suffice to say, I'm a fan. 

On this one site I can view other peoples interpretations of life events they have not been comfortable sharing with those closest to them and it gives me a slight approximation to the emotional experience that they must have felt. The most powerful moments come when I read secrets that I identify with so strongly that I might as well have written them. In essence, they are my secrets experienced in some form or manner by another human being. Whether the subject matter is funny or sad, shallow or profound, there is something powerful in seeing someones innermost thoughts put on display after being hidden from all others.

For many people, myself included, there is a hazy line in differentiating whether we hide our secrets or whether our secrets hide us. Often in order for me to share a secret, a real secret, I need to have a half dozen beers in my system and even then the sharing is very calculated. 

To so many of us our secrets are sacred. They are the parts of our lives that we'd rather not have define us, but do anyways. From my own experience they are laden with regret and embarrassment that I expect would elicit a negative reaction from the people that I know. Basically secrets create a prison made out of the expected reactions of others, we bind ourselves in based on our expectation of their judgment.

When a secret is finally shared it can be liberating. From my own experience what I seek in sharing secrets is two-fold: first, to no longer carry that secret by myself and second, validation that I am not alone as a flawed human being. PostSecret allows me the second half of that experience with no risk to myself. 

In viewing a few dozen secrets of strangers each week I inevitably find a few secrets to which I fundamentally identify. In that moment there is an understanding and connection with another human being that I cannot deny. I know that I am not only validated, but so are they and if that particular secret is validated then there's the probability that my other secrets are too. 

At the end of the day it serves to quell my angst that in experience as a human being trying to find my way through this world I have not made myself irredeemably flawed to the point that another person could not understand me.

When I'm done looking through the secrets on the site for a given week I often feel relief. It serves as an exercise in empathy both towards myself and towards others which reminds me that while we don't always understand each other completely, there are still people out there who can understand and identify with my specific emotions and experiences that we process. 

This helps me feel more connected not only to anonymous people on the internet, but also to the people in my own life who probably have the same secrets as me, but try and hide them as much as I hide mine. It also makes me wonder how well we could understand each other if we'd just be honest with each other. Now if only I were artistic enough to create a handmade postcard...


  1. Secrets are such a weird thing. I believe we all have things that we're ashamed of, but society tends to place these things in a hierarchy where we as individuals can look at others and say "well at least I didn't do THAT" and subsequently feel better about ourselves. That mentality is the exact opposite of what Jesus preached in the Gospels, but I don't know a single person that's exempt from thinking that way, myself included. In the end I don't think it will matter much (relatively speaking), and that's the beauty of a spirituality based on forgiveness.

  2. I think there's a fear of that hierarchy certainly. At the same time, if that forgiveness you mentioned is supposedly available now, there is a certain amount of liberation that comes in revealing your secrets. I think, at its best, Post Secret or something like it can give us a window into the relief of knowing that we aren't alone. One of the most important things I've realized as I've grown up is that everyone is broken and everyone is making it up as they go along. I think honestly telling our secrets helps everyone to communally share that brokenness, which in turn fosters humility, which fosters worship and a lot of other good things.