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Monday, March 28, 2005

Setec Astronomy

A good friend and I were talking the other day when she mentioned the idea that social ties are useful for support, but maybe only up to a point. Beyond some mystical threshold, perhaps adding more ties actually leads to more stress, and less support. This does, certainly, seem like a reasonable idea, and is one that has seen some amount of research before.

Of course, part of the question isn't so much about the number of ties, as the kind of ties and their structure. A person with very few close associates, who all require assistance at once, may derive as much stress from the experience as someone with many, many associates, only a few of whom need help. So, in other words, in networks as in real estate, it's location, location, location. Sometimes social ties don't help, and often there is a tertius without quite so much gaudens.

Something very similar to this has been on my mind of late, mostly because I find myself in a position similar to the unfortunate tertius. I find that I have been called upon to offer support to several of my closest friends, and in some cases have been asked to perform very particular services on their behalf.

Get your minds out of the gutter! I don't mean those kinds of services.

While I am glad to be there for my friends, and take their trust as a very meaningful compliment, I do now find myself in a situation best summed up by Setec Astronomy. I know this may surprise some of you- there has, after all, been an amount of skepticism about my ability to be discreet. All the same, I am indeed capable of discretion when it is called for. Or so I tell myself in order to sleep at night.

Secrets are a funny thing to me. On the one hand, everyone has secrets. It is an inescapable fact of life that we have done things, and said things, of which we are not proud. Often the most effective way to deal with such incidents is simply to prevent them from becoming public knowledge. There are quite a few romantic comedies built upon this premise. Some of them, amazingly, are even good.

Then again, there is another kind of secret- the corrosive kind. You see, in the former type of secret one simply has to avoid speaking of a certain thing and the secret will be kept. In this latter kind, the secret is more pernicious. It is information that pertains to events that are still in motion, and that deals with people whom you may yet know. This presents a different scenario entirely. This kind of secret breeds more secrets. To protect one thing, you must hide other things that connect to it. This secret is dangerous because it breeds lies; it is a sin of omission that then forces the holder into sins of commission. At first this is not so bad, and can even be a little exciting- it can be enjoyable to match wits with your peers in a battle to define reality. Yet, over time, these secrets demand more and more of you. You must become ever vigilant, and ever ready to mend your fence of falsehoods. After a while, this isn't fun anymore, and it separates you from the people around you. Worse still, it separates you from yourself- because the person you really are, and the person you must act like, increasingly diverge. Eventually, you may no longer know what is real and what is not. This is particularly ironic in intimate relationships- the original secret may have been kept out of fear that the truth would drive the other person away, but sooner or later attempting to keep that secret will have the same effect. In trying to hold onto another, you succeed only in driving away yourself.

I recently dealt with one such corrosive secret in my life, and feel better for the experience. I am, of course, ashamed of myself for what was, admittedly, atrocious behavior, but all I can do is make amends and try to do better next time. Yet, in relieving myself of this secret, I feel as though venom has been drained from a wound. It makes the remainder of my burden of secrets, most of which I am holding for others as a valet keeps cars, a little easier to endure.

Yet, there is a third type of secret as well- a type we rarely hear about. Sometimes there are good secrets. I don't mean the kind that spare another person from harm, those usually fall into the first or second categories. Sometimes we know things that are wonderful, and good, and heartwarming. Usually such things can be talked about, but every now and then there is reason to hold them close, and keep them secret. This kind of secret can often be the opposite of the second kind- instead of a corrosive force, it is a buoyant one. This kind of secret can make the rest of our lives easier to deal with. I have recently come into possession of this kind as well, and I am grateful. It is a rare gift, and a precious one, and should be treasured when it appears.

Secrets are hard, difficult things, but they are an unavoidable part of life. To understand them is to understand yourself, but to become enamored with them is to, eventually, lose yourself entirely. I am not one to tell others that honesty is the best policy, my life has on more than one occasion imposed the need for secrecy, but I will say this: be careful of the burdens you take on.

There are little secrets in this world, but they don't always stay that way.

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