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Let me tell you this in strict confidence

Do I know any secrets? Maybe, but I am not sure. I have never been sure. Over the years, people have often indicated they were telling me something that was unknown to everyone else, but it seldom, if ever, worked out that way.

Telling secrets was certainly a major childhood pastime. If you didn’t tell at least two or three secrets each day and hear a couple of new ones yourself, then you weren’t leading a very interesting social life.

The dictionary says a secret is “something kept hidden or unexplained; something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few.”

I suppose that is as good a working definition as you can find, but it gets a little flimsy at the end when it resorts to use of the word “few.” How many is a few? I’ve always understood that “a couple” is two, but how many is “a few”? Is it more or less than “several?”

Defining few, my dictionary says: “consisting of or amounting to only a small number … at least some but an indeterminately small number.”

That doesn’t really help much, either, especially when dealing with the issues of defining, learning and keeping secrets.

Years ago, one of my early editors gave me his definition of a secret. It related to whether or not certain material could or could not be published in a newspaper. He was trying to convince me to write a story, a story that seemed important at the time.

“It’s a secret,” I explained. “I was told about it in strict confidence, so I can’t write it.”

“That’s not a secret,” he immediately replied, “and I’ll tell you why. If three people know it, then it isn’t a secret. Now you know it. The guy who told you knows it. And who told him? That’s at least three people, probably more. If it ever was a secret, it isn’t a secret any longer. You can write that story.”

So I did write the story and it caused no great commotion that I recall. I also don’t remember whether my informant ever complained about seeing it in print.

Secrets are important to the people who keep them, but less important to those who disclose them. Some self-styled authorities claim that the ideal number of people required to keep a secret is one, meaning just you and no one else. I reject that position as simplistic. Of course, the risk of disclosure increases as soon as another person is told the secret.

I realize that I risk offending a large segment of my readers, but I believe gender plays a critical role in the whole issue of secrets.

It is my contention that women always know more secrets than men. I say that because there have been many reports, both professional and popular, comparing the personal communication patterns of women versus men. Women are known for their open and frank relationships with female friends. The operative word is usually “share.” Women share. Men don’t operate that way. They may have friends with whom they bowl, play tennis or attend a ball game, but the exchange of information and feelings is usually far different. Men are likely to keep things to themselves. The operative word there might be “closed.”

If it’s true that women know more secrets than men, how are they at keeping them? A poll of a few random bystanders yielded men who insisted women were the best keepers of secrets and women who felt the same about men. I wish I knew the answer. You know I would tell you if I could.

Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.

10/28/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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