By Dan Danford, MBA, CRSP
It’s one of the profound bits of wisdom that comes with age. I’ve been walking this earth for over 50 years, and God has revealed a few truths in that time. Most were revealed bit by bit over decades of observation. Some are still unfolding, and I’ll grant that there are some lessons I may never learn (as my wife would gladly testify).
There are no secrets. Is the boss a bully? People already know. Is that neighbor creepy? People know. Is your child’s teacher lazy? People know. Does a colleague take unfair credit for projects or successes? Does a contractor use inferior materials? Did an insurance agent fudge the truth? Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.
Nothing drives this point home like the recent assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. A team of (at least) 25 assassins killed al-Mabhouh in January, and the entire supposedly clandestine episode was captured by multiple cameras over a 24-hour period. Spies typically cover their tracks and carefully protect their identity, but this operation is fully documented by video. Almost as if the team decided in advance that secrecy was impossible, so why even bother?
Think about it. Who loves secrets? People who do bad things, mostly. Bribers and bribees. Spies. Crooks. Snotty teenagers, and people cheating on their spouses.
But truth is noble, and it rises above petty human manipulations and eventually bubbles up for all to see. Secrets are a force bred and borne in the dark, and they scurry for cover when the lights come on. And - this is very important - bright lights shine 24 hours a day in today’s world.
Celebrities know this. Paparazzi plague their lives with constant surveillance. From scandalous to tedious, a posse of photographers stands watch every minute to record the details of everyday life. Try something bad, or even something good, and it’s instantly posted to some website where it eventually worms its way into our common experience. There really are no secrets.
It’s not just celebrities, though. Do any of us truly believe we can avoid scrutiny? Most of us don’t have photographers lurking in the shadows, but we don’t live in the dark, either. People surround us, and they are instantly, powerfully, intertwined through social and technology connections. If any of us does anything that merits discussing, then someone, somewhere, will immediately discuss it.
I know a woman who is mean and vile and vindictive. But she can also be funny and charming and interesting when it suits her. Over several decades, I’ve watched her churn through assorted friends. Most of her friendships start innocently, but they all eventually sour and end badly. Those of us who know her watch the cycle repeat over and over again. We nod knowingly as she lures new victims, and wince as the inevitable unfolds. The same instinct that makes us want to help them also acknowledges that her initial charm is too powerful to overcome with a friendly warning.
A sincere friend once tried to warn me about another bad egg. “Everyone in our neighborhood was glad to see him move away,” he explained. I foolishly ignored this warning, only to regret it later. The truth was there all along; I just needed some personal experience to confirm that early warning. It was a very painful personal experience, just as helpfully hinted.
College athletics reinforces this point. Coaches come and coaches go, and the ones who are fired – which are many, actually – demand legal secrecy as a matter of course. This dark shroud is designed to protect both coach and university, but, in truth, protects neither one. See, the light of day shone brightly for years before the firing, and any wrongdoing by either party is generally known. The secrecy clause serves to fuel increased speculation, and prevents any official statements by anyone, but it’s a good bet that everyone already knows the truth. There are no secrets.
You might argue that these rotten people continue those bad patterns (as I noted above). Serial badness, if you please. And it is true that a planet with 7 billion people creates lots of new opportunities for them. My simple point is this: we know precisely who they are and what they do because there are no secrets. They think they are clever, but they’re not.
Narcissistic types always believe the world revolves around them, and because of that, they alone control the flow of information. Their world contains manipulation, and spin, and carefully constructed half-truths. As stars of their own movie, they tend to overlook that we’ve been observing them for years.
That’s the huge point they miss. We’ve already branded them as jerks, and bullies, and creeps. We know the crappy things they’ve already done and the secrets they hope to protect. It’s virtually impossible to hide something after it’s already seen the bright light of day.
Really. There are no secrets. That truth is rock solid. People are always watching, and they’ve been watching for a very long time. There are no secrets.