On “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

In a time with strong emphasis on interpersonal sensitivity, in which we are encouraged to explore our communicative capacities and experiment with many forms of physical, mental and emotional contact, we are sometimes tempted to believe that our feelings of loneliness and sadness are only a sign of lack of mutual openness.  Sometimes this is true and many sensitivity centers make invaluable contributions to the broadening of the range of human interactions.  But real openness to each other also means a real closedness, because only he who can hold a secret can safely share his knowledge.  When we do not protect with great care our own inner mystery, we will never be able to form community.  It is this inner mystery that attracts us to each other and allows us to establish friendship and develop lasting relationships of love.  An intimate relationship between people not only asks for mutual openness but also for mutual respectful protection of each other’s uniqueness.

There is a false form of honesty that suggests that nothing should remain hidden and that everything should be said, expressed and communicated.  This honesty can be very harmful, and if it does not harm, it at least makes the relationship flat, superficial, empty and often very boring.  When we try to shake off our loneliness by creating a milieu without limiting boundaries, we may become entangled in a stagnating closeness.  It is our vocation to prevent the harmful exposure of our inner sanctuary, no only for our own protection but also as a service to our fellow human beings with whom we want to enter in a creative communion.  Just as words lose their power when they are not born out of silences, so openness loses its meaning when there is no ability to be closed.  Our world is full of empty chatter, easy confessions, hollow talk, senseless compliments, poor praise, and boring confidentialities.  Not a few magazines become wealthy by suggesting that they are able to furnish us with the most secret and intimated details of the lives of people we always wanted to know more about.  In fact, they present us with the most boring trivialities and the most supercilious idiosyncrasies of people whose lives are already flattened out by morbid exhibitionism.

Certainly in a period of history in which we have become so acutely aware of our alienation in its different manifestations, it has become difficult to unmask the illusion that the final solution for our experience of loneliness is to be found in human togetherness.  It is easy to see how many marriages are suffering from this illusion.  Often they are started with the hope of a union that can dispel all painful feelings of “not belonging” and continue with the desperate struggle to reach a perfect physical and psychological harmony.  Many people find it very hard to appreciate a certain closedness in a marriage and do not know how to create the boundaries that allow intimacy to become an always new and surprising discovery of each other.


An excerpt from Reaching Out:  The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen

5 thoughts on “”

  1. I really liked this passage you shared.  In my lack of wisdom, for a season or two I bought into the false Christian lie of being “transparent” to people.  Perhaps the message preached should have paired transparency with some form of closedness.  In my question to be open and honest revealing all of my inner sanctum, I was hurt and bruised and easily rejected in the process.  Not the best thing to do – to allow others to beat down on who I was without a defense.  Perhaps I have also risked too much, even in not “revealing” me, I have opened myself to serving others too much too frequenty, only to be taken advantage of, beat down, and abused.  Yet, perhaps that abuse has brought me this far for a reason…I dunno.  Somedays, I feel like it’s better to lie and respond to, “how you doing?” with, “okay, I’m fine.”  Life would be so much easier.

  2. Right on, right on. There are precious secrets one must keep to God. I like what Foxmouser says about ‘balance’; certainly nobody appreciates being told a secret if the only person who doesn’t know the secret up until then is the said individual. At the same time, an unbearable loneliness rests on the backs of those perpetually tight-lipped.

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