Every good story has a secret. Personally, I loathe secrets. The turning point of story is when the secret is revealed. The world spins on an axis of lies, and from infancy we suckle on those lies as if they would nourish us. We are set free when truth is revealed. That is, if we survive the shock.
As much as I detest lies, and not in small measure because I have gobbled them so voraciously, I am grateful for the fuel they provide for story. What we don’t know, what is withheld – don’t tell your mother, this is our little secret, this didn’t happen, don’t tell a soul, this information doesn’t leave the room, be discreet, etc. etc. is the stuff of both trauma and riveting stories. In the revelation is the possibility of clarity, redemption, victory, climax.
In my memoir writing class we were asked to fill in an algorithm for what our stories are about: This story is about ___ and I will illustrate it by writing about ___, ___, and ___. After fuddling with various notions, such as “freedom”, “truth” and so on for the first bit, I settled on the “search for clarity.” Because if I reflect on my perception throughout time, I am struck by the pervasive sense of being coated with wax, or having a wax film over my eyes. Whatever I saw or understood was always set straight by a clearer seeing person… as if I had my head on not quite straight.
A couple of years ago, I came upon this video clip from a Ted Talks on Cognitive Bias:
When I saw this video for the first time, I was stunned into silence. As if my head was surrounded by the thousand wobbly pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and they all began to twist and turn to assemble in the air, until right before me the picture of everything I didn’t understand came to rest in crystalline clarity.
If we are conditioned, programmed, to perceive in a particular way, then that is precisely what we will see. Even in rigid scientific studies, the conclusions drawn from results are subjective. Years ago a friend of mine was training to become a therapist. In one of her textbooks, it outlined an experiment wherein babies had access to a cord that when pulled a bell rang. After several rings, the scientists turned off the mechanism, so that there was no bell when the cord was pulled. A few pulls later it was discovered that the girls stopped pulling the cord, but the boys went on pulling and pulling. The textbook drew the conclusion that girls are apt to give up quickly and that boys persevere. My friend threw the textbook across the room.
The correlation between secrets and perception is obvious, I know, but I need to speak it. If you don’t even have the facts straight, how are you to begin to have a clear idea of what the hell is going on? And if you are purposefully steered in a particular direction, then how are to get all the bits you aren’t focussed on that slip by? And even if you see everything, as in a 360 degree range, how are you to assume you know what is actually happening, let alone extrapolate accurately? In short, we don’t need secrets in life, because human interaction by its very nature is misleading, confusing and deceptive. We are all conditioned by our parents and society to perceive within a boundary. Those of us who crack open the box and look around will always drag some of the fibres of that boundary with us even though we may believe otherwise. Don’t get me going about politics, global warming, conspiracy theories, the illuminati, big pharma, Monsanto, plastic, and drivers that curse you when they cut you off.
Secrets and lies. They may be destroying the world, but they make great story.