Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There must be some narrowness in the soul that compels one to have secrets.” I thought it was an interesting observation and I wish I could ask Mr. Thoreau why he thought keeping secrets indicated a “narrowness in the soul.” I would think it would depend on the secret. After all, we keep secrets all the time in various forms and degrees. There are the secret gifts that we buy and wrap in order to surprise the recipient. There are national secrets, kept to protect lives as well as the little secrets such as your best friend’s choice of clothing. The answer to the question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” could be a way to keep a secret. Saying yes could be mean; keeping the secret of what you really think can save someone’s feelings. I know someone who had a living room décor that I didn’t care for. I figured I’d just keep that to myself, as I didn’t have to live there.
White lies cover secrets. Big lies cover secrets as well, but sometimes it is best to keep your secrets, especially when airing them to the world can result in harm. Of course, the opposite is also true, not airing the secret can lead to harm. Like when your friend swears you to secrecy and confides that he or she is about to do something that could result in an injury to your friend. If you told that secret, you could save your friend from harm, but end up losing that friendship. It’s a fine line.
Secrets can be double-edged swords. In World War II, the British cracked the German code. They got so good at deciphering the code that they were reading German orders in real time, with little or no lag at all. The fact that the code was broken was one of the best-kept secrets of the war. German commanders had no idea until after the war that their ‘unbreakable’ code had been broken. That fact likely saved millions of Allied lives. I wonder how many Germans lives were lost because the code was broken. There are balances. What may seem like a good reason to keep a secret for one group could be detrimental to another group. That broken code was good for the British and bad for the Germans. Who knows, maybe both sides would have lost more men if the British hadn’t known what the Germans planned. It’s difficult to say.
I guess my point is that secrecy is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not saying that there are times when keeping a secret is not the right thing to do, but there are many instances when it is the right thing to do. As I said, secrets can be double-edged.
I have to disagree with Thoreau about his observation. Secrecy doesn’t denote narrow souls, but perhaps a kindly one or one determined to protect the people it cares for. As with everything else associated with human nature, you can’t pigeonhole reasons for keeping secrets.