This post was inspired by Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, a novel that exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider’s hunger to belong. Join From Left to Write on May 20 we discuss Bittersweet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.
Three people can keep a secret so long as two of them are dead.
– Benjamin Franklin
The engaging new novel Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is fraught with secrets of all sizes. There are secrets meant to protect reputation, to spare a loved one grief; secrets keep out of self-preservation and ones buried away out of greed. As I observed the characters deal with the lies, mysteries and omissions, I kept thinking about the nature of secrets. Why do we keep secrets and when should we not? Is it easier to keep our own secrets than those entrusted to us by others?
I think everyone likes to think of themselves as being an honest person. Certainly most families aren’t running around with the kind of secrets buried by the Winslow clan in Bittersweet (at least I hope not!). Yet even the most honest among us have our secrets.
I believe that there are private, personal parts of ourselves that our innate sense of self-preservation keep us from sharing. We all have our little secrets we keep to protect the image we project to others. We don’t want to be thought silly, petty or vain. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Someday, if we’re lucky we find that person (or people) you can share your whole self with, free of fear or judgment.
Some secrets are innocuous, such as “who ate the last piece of pie?” Other secrets are more salacious but essentially victimless, i.e. the full term baby born miraculously six months after marriage. These are secrets that are easy to keep; they fall into the ‘no harm, no foul’ category.
There are bigger secrets we keep to protect others; secrets that aren’t ours to share. Just because we know what happened in Vegas doesn’t mean we share it. Knowing someone else’s secret can be a very powerful thing. As Spiderman learned, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Betraying a confidence sounds the death knell for many a relationship. You can’t unring that bell.
In Bittersweet, Mabel was faced with some very startling revelations which provided her an intractable problem: what to do with an injurious secret? An article in Psychology Today online noted “deciding not to reveal a hurtful secret is usually easy, while deciding to reveal it is hard.” I can’t say what I would have done in Mabel’s place (and not only because I’m avoiding spoilers). I think there are some situations where silence is not an option. When too many innocent people can be hurt, a secret is a weapon that must be diffused.
Thinking about the situations where I would tell a secret got me wondering: Am I good secret-keeper? I stumbled upon a quiz to help me find out.
From small, intimate secrets to family mysteries, there are all sorts of events that we keep quiet about, or that others keep hidden from us.
Some people find it difficult to keep a secret, while others find it difficult to cope when secrets are revealed. Can you keep a secret or do you find it difficult to hold your tongue? Take this test to find out…
And the answer is:
“You have a healthy attitude towards secrets”
You wouldn’t keep a secret that made things difficult for you or meant that other people were going to suffer. This attitude to secrets shows that you understand that there should always be a certain distance maintained between yourself and others. Secrets can’t harm you because you are clear that you are their master rather than their servant. You don’t exploit secrets in order to acquire power or to get other people to take an interest in you but you allow them their place and, if necessary, you might reveal them to certain people.
I might share a secret to help someone, but I’d never spill it to harm anyone.
Please note, all secret scenarios mentioned herein are HYPOTHETICAL – except for the secret about who ate the last piece of pie. I confess, it was me – but I won’t name my co-conspirators! Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.