I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thinking before speaking

Actually, thinking before telling would be a more accurate name for this post. I am one of those people who, for most of my life, couldn't keep a secret. If I was told something in confidence, I would have every intention of keeping it to myself, but at the first chance I got, even before I realized intellectually what I was doing, I was spilling the beans.

I can't explain what motivated me exactly, but knowing a secret about someone felt like a weight I carried around with me, until I unburdened myself by sharing it with someone. I guess this is how secrets always get out of hand, but it certainly made some people very mad at me over the years.

Once at my job in Boulder, my boss told me he was getting ready to fire someone in the office. Since I was friends with that person, I didn't want him to be blindsided by this, so I told him. He didn't believe me, he was so naive and trusting. I assured him it was true, that I had heard it from the boss himself, so they had a confrontation. I was aware of it and knew I was also going to be in trouble. And boy, was I! Although I wasn't fired, I was given every chance to quit, but I didn't. The boss didn't talk to me for months and would walk out of the room when I entered. Fortunately I had skills that were valued enough to help me get through those difficult months, and when it was time for my next evaluation, the boss explained that he would put the incident into the file, I would receive no raise for the next year, and that it would be put behind us at that point.

This was just one of the times I recall that my inability to keep things to myself got me into trouble. And then, at fifty, the man who I call Smart Guy came into my life. He is a very private individual, I am a very public person, and in the ancient pattern of people marrying their opposites, we somehow got together. It did help that we were both avid skydivers, born in the same year, and had many characteristics in common: love of the outdoors, backpacking, meditation, and vegetarianism.

One of the first things that ignited unpleasant sparks in our relationship was me talking about us to my girlfriends. When something that he considered private between us was brought up in a social setting, I learned to see the signs, him withdrawing and getting quiet, and I knew we would be dealing with it later. We managed to get through those first turbulent years with the help of a therapist. Looking back, it seems almost beyond belief that we made it through, but something kept us both trying. He said we didn't actually meet, we collided.

Nowadays, I still hear the conversation my earlier self would have had, but I have learned to think before I speak. It's almost like I have two dialogs going on: the one that actually comes out of my mouth, and the one that comes into my mind and would have, in the old days, have spilled out without me thinking twice about it. Regret would only come later, not while I was having the conversation.

I'm sure that part of what motivated me was the thrill of having information that the other person didn't have, and being the bearer of juicy details about a mutual acquaintance. I was, pure and simple, a gossip. Someone who loved having information about another and telling. When I think about it now, I realize I got a frisson of excitement from doing it. It really makes me feel a little ashamed to admit it now.

It's so much easier to live with my imperfections when they are not sticking out of me quite so blatantly. It is very easy for me to see how my younger self would never have admitted the guilty pleasure I derived from gossip. I would have denied it, even to myself. Today I can look at that younger self, though, with a less judgmental eye, knowing that life would mete out plenty of possibilities to grow in self knowledge.

It also allows me to be more forgiving of the folly of youth, those I see in daily life making mistakes of indiscretion. I guess it's true, that old staying about growing older and wiser.


TechnoBabe said...

The good thing was you paid the consequences when you were viewed as not trustworthy by others, such as no raise and being ignored by your boss. It must have given you something to gauge the importance of keeping secrets or keeping private things private. I like that you are not hard on your younger self. And I like that you are able to speak openly about your less than perfect actions. You are a good example to me in that regard.

Nancy said...

We all gossip when we are younger, I think. Some more than others, for sure, but I think we all did it. Like you, I think before I speak much more than I used to. But then I look at my intentions much more than I used to. It's part of growing up and being responsible for what we manifest.

Linda Reeder said...

It's a shame that wisdom comes so late in life, and yet, I guess it gives us plenty of time to learn from our mistakes.
Keeping a secret is hard for me, too. But then, if it was a secret, why were you told in the first place? Perhaps the boss also wanted to tell?

gayle said...

I know what you mean. Now a days someone can tell me something and it is safe. I don't feel the need to tell like I did in my younger years!!

Ed Pilolla said...

you would have made a great newspaper reporter. i don't often keep secrets myself, and when you get to write about them and get promoted for the more good secrets you write about, well, it can be quite fun!
some secrets, though, you've got to take to the grave.

Anonymous said...

I made the mistake of confiding in a co-worker, and she spread it throughout the office. What she blabbed about even followed me to my next job, because Honolulu is a small town.


Norma Jean said...

For what it is worth...I don't remember any of my secrets that you told when we were growing up. I'm sure there were some, but at this point in my life they weren't important enough to even remember. So...if you have any guilt about telling my secrets; let go of it. Love you, Jan.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I don't like secrets..they seem to cause lots of problems..so I try not to have any. I can relate to saying "stuff" about a spouse, my blog sometimes gets me in trouble..as we have different views..and he read the darned thing everyday:)

Gigi said...

We've all done it - and only sometimes, I'm guilty of still doing it. I have found that the older I get the less appealing it is - oh to have the tiny bit of wisdom I have now, back then.

Robin said...

When I was young (I'm 52 now) I never believed that saying "growing older and wiser" mostly because the older people I know were for the most part much less 'wise' than I thought I was! Frankly I still think that! But I now see that many people do grow wiser as the years go by (I still think most DONT).

Over 10 years ago I was in almost this same situation you talk about in this post - except I was the one getting fired. My good friend knew it was going to happen. She told me it was going to happen. The difference was I beleived her - I know she was 'in the loop' and doing me a great favor by telling me in advance so I could prepare myself. I didn't tell anyone she told me, but I got myself mentally prepared for what was about to happen. It helped me a lot that I know in advance and i've always been greatful that she told me.

So - I'm not so sure you did the wrong thing.


Whitney Lee said...

You know, I learned a lesson about trust at a very young age. I had an epileptic uncle whom I adored and always loved to go see. He would sit and talk to my sister and me like we were adults and told us things he asked us not to tell anyone else. I so loved and respected him that I never said a word. It has, through the years, become a point of pride that I've never betrayed his trust, even though he's been gone for 18 years. I like to believe that I'm trustworthy.

That said, I do enjoy the fact that most of the time the spouse is considered exempt from the secretive clause. My husband is very trustworthy and I know if I tell him something that's a bit hush hush for a bit that it'll go no farther.

I do know what you mean about getting in trouble and hurting people's feelings. Back when I was drinking I gave away information I was asked to keep to myself and ended up really hurting someone else. Thank goodness that's not an issue anymore as I didn't care for the feeling.

Dianne said...

I think we all did our fair share of secret spreading when we were young, I would be drawn to the drama

that changed as I got older

I still have issues because I'm so open and I don't always realize that what I'm saying about my life might makes someone close to me uncomfortable

#1Nana said...

I've always known that a secret is a secret only until you tell one person. But, knowing and doing are two separate skills. I've got the older part covered, when exactly will I be wiser?

I don't have much of a filter between what floats around my brain and what comes out of my mouth. And, I'm either too lazy or not smart enough to monitor my own behavior. I know I could be smarter, more successful, and a better friend if only I had good control. So how old do I have to be to get there?

Star said...

You are so open, you see, so upfront and open. I am the opposite. I can keep a secret and very often do, but that can also backfire. Sometimes people will say to me 'well if you knew about it, why didn't you tell me?' and then they are cross with me. Holding a secret is indeed a burden to carry.
Blessings on your openness, Star

CrazyCris said...

Bravo for overcoming that! I have a hard time keeping certain secrets, others no. Sometimes it helps to talk about them vaguely with people who have no clue about whom you're talking about so you can unburden yourself and yet not really put anyone's secret at true risk. Does that make sense?