So Juicy: Why We Can’t Keep Secrets

The world is a crazy place. Did you hear about the Austrian guy who kept his daughter locked in the basement and fathered her seven children?! It’s a story so radical that it shocks everyone that hears the tale and its not even the wildest one. The other day there was a documentary on that talked about 9/11 actually being a complete hoax to start a war in the middle east for oil!! That is a mind blowing piece of information to go public, you never really know what the government is up to. That’s not all, just when you think racism is getting better, TMZ publishes an audio tape of Clippers owner, Donald Sterling expressing very questionable views on who his girlfriend brings to his games. 

Some might say this is news, other people might say it is gossip or even rumors. We question the validity of these stories and criticize how they are delivered all while we discuss and share them. We’re not really sure if Kim and Kanye will actually have three weddings, and some of us don’t really care but that doesn’t mean its not trending. Some argue its because the media is shoving the gossip in our faces for profit. Some of that might be true but just because someone puts a steak in front of you doesn’t mean you’ll eat it .

If we look at the media today, it would seem that we are bombarded with gossip, rumors, conspiracy theories, and every other scandal that will get us to click. The question is, Why we continue to do so? Do we even really need the media’s help for this at all?  Ben Franklin once wrote, ” Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead “. He implies that it is impossible for people to keep their mouths closed about something important, incriminating, or controversial.

So why do we do it? “Juicy” is the word we use to describe these bits of information, visually it reminds of a piece of fruit that is bursting with so much actual juice you can’t help but get it all over everything.  The same is true for secrets, gossip, and rumors. In Fragment of an Analysis of a case of Hysteria Sigmund Freud claims,   “No mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” In 1905 Freud observes Dora, a young girl restlessly fidgeting with the clasp on her hand bag and makes the observation that is is a sign of repressed emotion. 

“You’re only as sick as your secrets.” is a saying used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Some psychologists say our inability to keep secrets stems from guilt. The repression of a secret or “intrusive thought” grows over time and takes up more space in our subconscious and that there is only a small group of people that can effectively suppress these thoughts,to a point they even keep secrets from themselves.

The idea of needing to tell a secret isn’t foreign. We’ve all heard someone say that they  just have to “vent” or tell someone because the secret is driving them crazy. If we take a look form this perspective it might be that we need a second opinion on the matter, not only to ease the psychological pressure but for assistance in processing the gravity of the information. We rely on people we trust with this information, not necessarily because we trust them to keep it from spreading but that we trust them to support us in coping.

Spreading a juicy secret, gossip, or a rumor doesn’t have to be true or even pleasant, only has to effect us. It is the same way we spread tips about great restaurants, or our own relationship troubles. We know humans are social mammals, and just like elephants or whales, we migrate collectively in patterns and sometimes we even stamped. If someone shares a warning of imminent danger, that message will move quickly through our culture. This message begins to shape our behavior, as exemplified by the 1950’s trend of preparing bomb shelters. It would be difficult for an average citizen to verify the threat of nuclear attack all on their own so they acted based on the guidance of trusted members of the community, of which media is a part.

Ironically, trust is the biggest opponent of secrets and at the same time, their catalyst. So when we speak we must be conscious of the nature of the information we share, to whom, how, and in what context. The media plays a large part but now we are all members of the media. You never know if by sharing a secret you are starting a stampede.