Yetley: What makes a secret so shameful?


Opinion: Yetley 8/31

Claire Yetley

Why are secrets shameful?

We all have secrets. A “secret,” according to Merriam-Webster, is something we keep hidden or concealed from others. Something like one’s religion or financial standing may not be thought about as a secret, but it is something not discussed completely openly by everyone in everyday conversation.

I was listening to a podcast from the New Yorker’s “Out Loud” during which they were discussing the Mormon religion and how it affects Mitt Romney and his political campaign. It was interesting, but what I thought was most interesting was how Romney and other past presidential candidates went about discussing their faith with the public.

The prime example was the question John F. Kennedy faced during the 1960 election as only the second Catholic (at the time) to become a presidential candidate. Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and spelled out firmly his religion was a private matter and that it would not affect his role as president. Romney just recently discussed this publicly, but why should he have to?

In a world where people share pointless information on Facebook and other social networks, we keep little to ourselves. One could say society was blunt about every detail of our lives even before the Internet. But when did modesty and humility get thrown out the window and replaced with transparency?

When did it become common to ask people how much money they make? When did sharing your “number” with a complete stranger become normal? When did it become expected to tell everyone when you are feeling under the weather? Why can’t people be in a relationship without being “Facebook official”?

On my way to work as a waitress, I stopped in at a gas station wearing my work shirt. In our small talk conversation, the clerk casually asked if I made “good money.” He was a complete stranger asking me approximately how much money I made. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so offended if my paycheck wasn’t completely dependent on how well I did my job as a waitress at a large local restaurant.

Personal health has stayed relatively private in everyday conversation, at least. But I would like to bring to mind attendance policies and many other work policies for absent workers. It’s simply not enough to tell the person of authority that you are under the weather and need to stay home, but now there needs to be a doctor’s note to prove you were, in fact, sick. Students may not have the highest integrity when it comes to calling in sick. And honestly, young, minimum wage workers might not have very high integrity on this issue either, but what if you’re honestly sick?

Thanks to the health care bill that was passed, a greater number of us can now stay on our parents’ health care plan, so a doctor is at least accessible now. But antibiotics and doctor’s visits can still cost money depending on which insurance plan you have.

There were two people sitting next to me in the coffee shop the other day studying biblical stories religiously, not objectively. They would read a verse, and the teacher would then tell the student what that exact verse meant spiritually. When did religion become okay to talk about outside of church? Did these people even notice the significance of their actions? Does anyone else notice the significance?

The people studying behind me that day were members of a popular Protestant church in the area. I was trying not to listen, as I had my own work I was trying to do, but they were right behind me. This led me to question whether these two people would feel as comfortable speaking in public if they were not followers of a religion so popular in America or with such a prominent presence in this area.

This is an example of how the majority can become neutral. I will probably not see a large Sikh or Jewish group demonstration on campus while I’m here at Iowa State, but for a Protestant religion, that’s possible. I spoke to one active member of this church community, and the idea that another religious group could not practice as openly as this group had not crossed her mind, nor was she open to talk about it. I don’t believe she even wanted to think about it; the conversation ended very soon after that.

At what point did we as a society decide to bring everything to the surface? Why do we as a society talk about all aspects of our lives in public but also feel we need to know, as in the case of Mitt Romney, all parts of someone’s religious life?

At some point we turned our private lives public and forgot what it means to discuss public issues. We don’t discuss issues that affect all of us; instead, we discuss our own personal lives. 

I don’t know if we’ll ever discuss public issues in the way we used to. Perhaps there will be a new way to get together and create real things and concepts rather than personal gossip.