WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. AP Photo.
That’s a question many of America’s top diplomats, from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to U.S. Ambassadors posted to capitals around the world, likely thought about over the Thanksgiving holiday as they prepared for Julian Assange to release millions of pages of secret diplomatic memos through the WikiLeaks website.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We are all bracing for what may be coming and condemn WikiLeaks for the release of classified material.” Crowley called WikiLeaks’ actions ”irresponsible” and said it places “lives and interests at risk.” Harold Koh, a State Department legal adviser, urged Assange not to release the documents.
The activities of Assange’s WikiLeaks are another sign that the 21st century is becoming an age in which secrets are going the way of phone books, floppy disks, and music stores.
For centuries, from families to corporations, reporters, military chiefs, financial executives, lawyers, and government officials, information withheld from the public was a source of power.
Changing behaviors, from innocently posting publicly visible updates on relationship status, pictures, and activities on Facebook, to what the State Department calls the “irresponsible” actions of Assange’s WikiLeaks, are leading to an era in which keeping secrets may soon become obsolete.
In the Spring of 2001, the National Security Agency published “Toward a Taxonomy of Secrets,” considering the primary motivations for keeping secrets and their perceived real and illusory values. The report segments secrets into categories such as those kept to prevent embarrassment, exercise control, meet external regulation and legal requirements, maintain social cohesion, and promote tradition and momentum.
Like governments and enterprises, families are also grappling with the impact of rapidly emerging technologies on rules about what to share publicly versus secrets family members were once encouraged to take with them to their graves.
Many of the most meaningful breakthroughs couples achieve in PAIRS relationship and marriage education classes come when it becomes safe to confide secrets. Often, the secrets couples quietly share with each other are connected to thoughts they were long afraid to say aloud. When loved ones discover the ability to be fully authentic with each other, including sharing their secrets without having to hide, deny, or pretend, deeper experiences of love, intimacy, and passion become possible.
As couples fast discover in PAIRS classes, relationships are with human beings who, by our very nature, are works in progress. The experience of being fully accepted by another person, not as the illusion or fantasy many promote, but as a real, multi-dimensional person with wonderful qualities and challenges too, is the foundation of real intimacy.
That level of connection is reserved for relationships with significant others who are able to respond to vulnerability with empathy and understanding, even in the face of disagreement. When vulnerabilities are met with emotional, economic, physical or other forms of abuse designed to establish power and control, real intimacy is not possible.
While the massive WikiLeaks release will undoubtedly lead to a fury of diplomatic fence mending with friends and allies throughout the world, the ultimate secret revealed will likely be that governments and enterprises, like families and communities, are sustained by real people, including many whose words, actions and decisions are better some days than others.
Similar to couples in marriage education classes, paying attention to those who respond with invitations to strengthen understanding and cooperation versus others who look to undermine, abuse or advantage themselves may be the most telling revelation of all.
Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.
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