This is kind of a weird topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about privacy.
Growing up, I understood that “privacy” meant we close the door when we use the bathroom, and we don’t touch our private parts at the dinner table.
But the concept of “keeping things private” (beyond that) never really sat well with me.
Even playing truth or dare as a kid, I felt like I had an unfair advantage, because there was absolutely nothing I wouldn’t tell someone. Like… why not? I never understood the kids who would opt to lick a toilet seat, or prank call a stranger, rather than just telling her friends who she had a crush on.
Privacy just never suited me; it always felt kind of dark and yucky.
Unfortunately for me, we live in a society that highly values privacy.
We say stuff like “don’t air your dirty laundry in public,” and “that’s nobody else’s business” and we encourage people to hide, and pretend, and lie.
What I’ve noticed is that the stuff people usually keep “private” is also the stuff they feel the most shame about: sexual preferences, trauma, illness, mental illness, addiction, failing marriages, miscarriage, infidelity, menstruation, you name it.
If it causes shame, we’re encouraged to keep it private. My question is:
What do we lose, as a culture, by keeping so much stuff private?
Personally, I believe we lose the opportunity to feel connected with others, to build true intimacy, to feel seen and accepted, to know that we’re normal, to heal ourselves, and to know that we have the power to heal others.
“But Jessi! Some stuff just isn’t anyone else’s business!”
Some stuff is irrelevant, to some people.
What I ate for breakfast today doesn’t matter, so I’m not telling you about it. It’s “not your business” because it serves no purpose for either of us.
I only share the things that serve a purpose or have a benefit, either to me or to someone else.
Often the benefit is to me, because I’m relying on a friend to help me process whatever it is I’m going through. Other times it’s for other people, like when I tell a client a personal story, or post intimate stuff on Instagram.
But one thing I’ve noticed is that the benefits of truth-telling extend further than you might guess.
Trusting another person with your truth is as much a gift for them as it is for you- it makes them feel respected, included, and liked. It allows them to relax their own privacy filter a little, and let you see them a little more clearly.
Truth-sharing feels good for both parties; it’s like coming across a pool of loving sunshine. (Incidentally, I think privacy often feels bad to both parties– like coming across a cold stone wall.)
Some stuff is just too vulnerable.
For the most part, when people say stuff like “that’s none of your business,” or “that’s too personal,” what they mean is that they feel too uncomfortable or vulnerable to share it in that situation. Which is fine, but it’s slightly dishonest.
Using phrases like “not your business” allows people to hide behind some imaginary privacy rule, instead of owning their truth about not wanting to share this particular fact with this particular person.
Saying something like “I don’t feel like talking about that right now,” or “I’d rather not share that with you” feels much more powerful, honest, and direct to me.
Ok, ok. Obviously I love transparency. But here’s the catch:
Lately, I’ve come to realize that my transparency and truth-telling sometimes includes other people’s stories, and I’m not really sure what to do about that.
For example, I love to talk about sex. It’s one of my favorite topics, both endlessly fascinating and deeply important to the self-development work I’ve been doing in the last few years. But now that I have a serious partner, any story I tell about my current sex life is kinda like telling his story, too.
My desire to talk about sex hasn’t diminished any, but I also don’t want to overstep his personal privacy settings. (It’s happened.)
Another example is when someone in my life goes through something majorly huge and dramatic, and I have a fuck-ton of feelings about it that I need to process. In order to work through my experience with a trusted friend, I kind of have to tell someone else’s story.
And you’re really not supposed to do that.
The thing is though, we’re all so deeply interconnected. I nearly had a panic attack recently because someone else in my life was going through something scary.
I don’t believe we can ever really untangle our stories from other people’s’ stories, and it feels false (to me) to try.
On the other hand, I do want to honor the trust and autonomy of every person in my life- including their autonomy over how their story gets told, and to whom.
When faced with this kind of thing, I can’t help but wish everyone would just let go of this need for privacy once and for all, so that nobody ever has to hide anyone else’s secrets.
I mean, wouldn’t it be so much better if everything was just always on the table, and none of us ever had to hide or pretend or play games? Eh?
I don’t know. Am I being naive? Is there a purpose for privacy I’m missing?
As always, hit reply and share your thoughts, or come post them in my private Facebook group for discussion. I loovvve to hear from you. 🙂
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