Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dirty Little Family Secrets

What constitutes a dirty little family secret?

How do we get the strength to stand up and say "This is our situation but it's not a stain on us!" And when should we do it?

Should we go public when our white daughter starts dating a man from another race? Even if we don't have a problem with it, what will the Gillespies think? After all, they're our next door neighbors and we know they don't believe in what they call "miscegenation" even if we tell each other that it is an old fashioned view.

Should we go public when our son cheats repeatedly on his wife and she finally leaves him? What should we say to everyone? Should we help him cover it up for the sake of the family name? What if our silence allows him to brand his wife as frigid or unstable or mentally ill when we've known him from the time he was born, and we've known there was always something intrinsically evil about him? What if, despite our warnings to her, his wife chose to believe in him and suffered the consequences? Should we continue to contribute to her degradation at his hands?

What if our sister has been beaten by her boyfriend? Is it tacky to talk about it in public? What about the people who say that a) she deserved it because she was living with him out of wedlock or b) she should have seen the signs before she got involved with him or c) it's simply not something that should be talked about in public because it makes people uncomfortable.

Should we go public when an elderly family member has Alzheimer's? Will it make us look crazy, too? Will people view us differently than before?

What if our spouse or parent has a drug addiction? Should we tell everyone so that they stop giving him money or enabling him in other ways? But how will that make us look? Will it look like we all have an addiction or some other raging, hidden problem that would land us with a family member who's an addict?

These are all situations that have hit my family and friends. And they are all situations we struggle with.

I've seen these issues divide entire families. I've seen them make enemies of friends.

I am an extremely pragmatic person, and to a fault, many will tell you. I am rarely ruled by emotion and can sometimes be too dismissive of someone else's emotional reactions. I view myself as a crusader of the truth. Should it be delivered tactfully? Yes. But it should be delivered: Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

However, this can land me in hot water sometimes because not all secrets are mine alone. They are secrets that are shared by a family or group and sometimes the members of that family or group are not in agreement as to whether something should be disclosed or not.

I was recently taken by surprise by one incident, where an entire branch of my family went up in arms over a public disclosure I'd made that, to my mind, was completely innocent and nothing to be covered up. The vast majority of the public would agree with me. So...if I had asked my family for their permission first should I have been ruled by their wishes or dismissed them as ridiculous?

Tact would come into play, here. Unless the public needs to be warned, bending to the wishes of a majority of a group would often be wise.

But what if it's the case of your white daughter dating a Jamaican, and the majority of your family are ignorant rednecks this side of the railroad tracks in the middle of remote Atmore, Alabama? Is it your duty to be the one lone voice in your family saying "My daughter is in love with a black man and I'm proud that they've been able to find love in a cold world"? Again, the majority of public opinion would be on your side (I believe the tide has turned in America) but your family sees it as a sign that you're a terrible parent. Is the issue greater than family pride? Or should you treat it as a shameful secret and thus tacitly agree with them?

And how about the case of the drug addict? Your goal is to save his life by telling everyone so that they stop giving him money or paying his bills. Perhaps even truth alone is of importance, here. Isn't everyone entitled to it? Are you a co-conspirator if you say nothing?

At what point are we unashamedly standing up and educating the public, and at what point are we airing dirty linen that instead should be washed and tucked away in a dark closet?


Jacob Mathews said...

You pose difficult questions. To me it seems these questions arise out of a conflict of duties. Sometimes conflict of duties can be resolved by ranking of duties and obligations. Sometimes they can be resolved by defining an overarching telos which can officiate between these conflicting duties. And if this overarching telos is maximizing the good then some felicific calculus can be done.
Ah but that is theory. Never so easy as all that in the messy affairs of life is it?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Jacob, excellent observations and yes, it is virtually impossible when it comes to how it will affect others because we have no scale of measuring feelings. We can measure what people SAY they feel, but we can't measure the truth of it and we can't begin to assess the future of one course of action over the other.

Doug said...

Many years ago when I was growing in small town, midwestern America, I didn’t know a single person who was gay or lesbian.

There must have been gay men and women that I ran into every day and simply didn’t know they were gay or lesbian. For gay men and women to have felt they had a shameful and dangerous secret that they must keep to themselves, had to have done them great and unfair harm.

It is only when gay men and women began coming out of the “closet”, and television and movies began depicting gay men and lesbian women as no different than everyone else except in a single (sexual) dimension, that old prejudices and stigmas began to fade away.

We are all much more alike, including in our flaws and foibles, than we are different. It is seeing that others, like us, have flaws, foibles, and idiosyncrasies, and that they too sometimes make mistakes, that understanding and embracing them, if not always liking them, is made possible and unavoidable.

All “biographies” reveal flawed human beings because all human beings, by imperfect nature, have them in abundance. Nearly all human beings have redeeming qualities as well. We’re a mixed bag. We’ve all got good and bad habits of the heart.

Keep opening closets and emptying bags. We can’t come to embrace what we keep secreted away.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Doug, thanks for your contributions! It's always a pleasure to hear from you.