Buried in an editorial about playwright Wendy Wasserman’s secrecy-laden life:
Implicit in Mr. Rich’s lament and my own pursuit of Wasserstein’s essential truths is the notion that secrets are inevitably harmful and the desire for privacy somehow suspect, and neurotic, if not downright nefarious.
BUT maybe secrecy and privacy have become too easily conflated when they are, in fact, quite different. Before endless sharing and complete transparency became the norm, it was understood that privacy was a kind of sanctuary, a refuge from the selves we presented to the world. Embarrassing family snapshots weren’t unexpectedly tagged on the Internet; you could hide your age if you were so inclined. Wendy Wasserstein’s life certainly suggests the possibility that she treated her private life as a kind of protected space.
Today we baby boomers worry that nothing is hidden, except maybe the Internet identities our children might assume. We thought we wanted openness, full transparency, in all realms. Our parents were so leery of outside scrutiny that mundane matters were given the status of high-level security; my husband’s mother forbade her children to reveal any illness more serious than a cold.
For my parents’ generation, secrecy was a way to survive; dwelling on the past could only drag you down. That belief served my mother well: now in her 80s, she survived Auschwitz (but lost her parents there) and went on to travel the world, become a shrewd businesswoman, have a family and carry on after the deaths of two remarkable husbands. She’s had an epic life containing monumental dislocation and loss as well as much satisfaction.
I am always amazed at how few social tools have provisions for secrecy, and only the weakest supports for privacy, grafted on as an afterthought.