My Savannah book club, Bound to Please (don’t you love that name), recently read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I stumbled onto the club when they chose Bad Policy as their December 2013 book. Jan and I have continued to go to meetings because it is a good group of people with a variety of ages and interests, and they often choose books we wouldn’t normally read.
I was disappointed in The Husband’s Secret. If you want to know why, contact me off list, because I want to talk about a question I asked the group and the answers people gave. I’m not giving anything away to say that the husband wrote a letter to his wife, sealed it in an envelope, which he labeled with something to the effect of “open upon my death.”
Here’s the question—and answer it for yourself before you read on:
If your still living spouse/significant other left just such an envelope and you found it, would you rip it open?
I was fascinated to see eighty percent of the hands shoot up without hesitation. One participant noted that she wouldn’t rip it open; she’d steam it open. I wished I had thought of that, since I would have ripped it open and then destroyed the evidence of my moral crime.
Ben Franklin supposedly said something like, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Ben may have been an optimist. There is something in human nature that does not like secrets. We can’t keep others’ secrets; we often can’t keep our own; and assuming my book club is a fair representation of Americans, given the opportunity to learn someone else’s secret, we won’t hesitate to break their trust. Of course, owners of the gossip magazines by the grocery checkout have profited from this knowledge for generations.
Somehow we are shocked (shocked, I say) that our government eavesdropped on our allies—as if they weren’t doing the same to us. To those of you old enough to remember party telephone lines, I ask, “Didn’t you listen in on your neighbors?”
We should not be surprised that the NSA oversteps its bounds. Hoover’s FBI certainly did in their day. Today’s tools are exponentially more sophisticated, but that hasn’t changed our human desires to know what others want to hide.
Information wants to be free. We need laws (treason for so-called state secrets, copyright protection for authors, patents for inventors) to prevent it. But you know, once again Mom was right when she said, “Don’t do something you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper.”
Life can certainly be a lot less stressful if you’re not trying to protect secrets. Now, where did I hide that diary again?
Originally Published on Writers Who Kill (3/9/14)