Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets

     I love crime shows. I love ‘em. Reality or fiction, if it’s accurate it makes me happy. That’s why I love Law and Order. I think it’s pretty close to the truth, procedure-wise. Except that Detective Goren (who I love anyway because he’s awesome and a genius and crazy handsome) fiddles around with stuff at the crime scene before they’ve taken all the photographs, which is breaking practically the first rule of forensic investigation. You don’t. Touch. The crime scene. What was I talking about? Detective Goren’s awesomeness always distracts me. Oh, crime. Crime has always interested me. The thing that always shocks me is when a witness comes forward after ten years and says to the judge, “He told me he was going to kill her. He told me his whole plan.” It’s like, really? And you didn’t come forward with this information before she died because...? I think it’s partly because this witness didn’t want to believe that the murderer was really going to go through with it and partly because keeping your mouth shut is counted as a virtue in some systems of thinking.

     That’s probably three-quarters of the reason the world is so screwed up. People see crime or abuse and they just stay quiet and hope it blows over. Because who wants to point out something like that? Speaking about the wrongdoing associates you with the wrongdoing, and for heaven’s sake we don’t want that. Keeping dirty secrets is viewed as loyalty, as the mark of a good friend; or spouse, or son, or daughter, or whatever. And sometimes it goes beyond being a good friend; keeping dirty secrets is occasionally seen as the mark of a godly person. Guess where I learned that? Yep. At Repentance.

     There are rules, though, about keeping the dirty secrets. It depends on several factors: A) Does the person whose secret you’re keeping have the same belief system as you do? If not, feel free to tell. B) Is the person whose secret you’re keeping your dad or husband? If so, shut up, unless [see C].  C) Does the secret you’re keeping involve rebellion against the church authorities? If so, tell immediately.

     And there was supposedly Biblical support for this. You remember, no doubt, the story of Noah’s drunkenness, and how he passed out naked in his tent? Ham just kind of ignored this, but Shem and Japheth covered Noah with a blanket. Upon awakening, Noah learned of his disgraceful episode and swore that Ham would be cursed. And, so I was told, he was. This story was told to me a million times, and the moral we were supposed to glean was that exposing your father’s sin (there were a lot of people whose sin you weren’t supposed to expose, really) was a hideous misdeed. Basically, the message was, “If something bad is going on keep your mouth shut and your head down.” Honor was, of course, the word they used to strengthen and fortify this bit of untruth. Keeping dirty secrets was a way to honor your parents, or possibly the church authorities or your friends. Also, the phrase “love covers a multitude of sins” was utilized in this fashion.

     You have to give them credit for their audacity.

     None of this really holds up logically. At all. It really amazes me that humanity is so easily hoodwinked. I’m going to address a few of the flaws with this system of thinking, starting with the faulty analogy between Ham and a “dishonorable” son.

     First of all, Ham did not technically expose his father’s nakedness. He just didn’t take an active part in covering it up. Some have argued that this was from motives arising from a homosexual bent on Ham’s part, but I imagine that he skipped into the tent whistling blithely (perhaps to fetch his coat or saddle) and upon seeing his father drunk, snoring, and nude (shocked and slightly embarrassed at the sight of Larry in a towel), stumbled hastily from the embarrassing scene.

     “Shem!” he may have cried, aghast. “Japheth! It’s... oh, it’s terrible... I’m scarred forever! I‘ll need therapy five days a week until the day I die!”

     “Ham,” said Shem (theoretically), “that’s exactly what you said when you saw one of the zebras giving birth. What is it this time?”

     “Dad’s naked,” said Ham in a strangled whisper. “And drunk. He passed out in the tent.”

     “Oh,” said Japheth (hypothetically). “Yeah, that’s not good. We better cover him up before anyone else—” with a severe glare at Ham “—barges in there.”

     And then Noah woke up and heard of his son’s comments. Ashamed, he cursed Ham. It is interesting to note that Noah and not God was the one who cursed the unfortunate lad. And I’m not really convinced that Ham was cursed. He had prolific offspring, didn’t he? Many of whom were mighty in the sight of God. Sure, he fathered a wicked nation, but who didn’t in those days? Abraham did, and I wouldn’t call him cursed.

     Secondly, the thing that needed covering up was nudity. Not sin. It’s a pretty generally accepted truth that the bare human body is not something that is paraded around for all the world to see. It just isn’t polite. I don’t think we needed the Bible to point out that people clothed are generally less awkward to be around than people unclothed. There’s nothing in the story to suggest that nudity was in any way a metaphor for sin. The way I see it, the story was just a kindly word of advice to help your friends out of embarrassing situations if you possibly can and if doing so does not make you an accessory to crime.

     Now, that bit about honor and loyalty. That’s more dangerous. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: honor is not the same as obedience. Honor is nothing more or less than giving someone the respect due his station and character. Parents get it by virtue of the work and sacrifice which that job entails; kings get it for the same reason; police officers get it because they put themselves in harm’s way to keep the citizenry safe and because they will Tase you if they don’t; and humanity in general gets it because being made in the image of God is a pretty big deal (by the way, all of those examples are in the Bible. Except police officers, but only because Tasers were not invented until recently). People of exceptional character get extra respect, and it also works in reverse: those whose actions are harmful or stupid do not deserve this honor. I’m going to move on now, but I hope I’ve made it perfectly clear that “honor your parents” doesn’t even come close to meaning “never tell anyone if they are criminals or abusers.”

     And now for love covering all sins. I think we can all agree that I have a decent grasp of the English language, so you can believe me when I say that  “cover” does not always mean “conceal.” You are aware of this fact yourself, no doubt. Cover can mean a plethora of things. “I’ve got it covered” means “I will take care of the situation.” Here, it looks like the phrase “love covers a multitude of sins” means that love accepts a multitude of sins. I am aware that “cover” doesn’t really mean “accept,” but the way I see it, that bit of verse means that love will come into play where these sins are involved. Does that make sense? I think it just means that if someone you love is messing up, you accept that aspect of his character because you love him and that’s just how it works. In any case, somewhere down the line is a bit about how love rejoices in the truth. And I’m pretty sure that “rejoice in” and “conceal” are not compatible concepts.

     So much for the logic. The Philosophy of Shutting Up, as I call it, is full of holes. But on a different and deeper level, it is extremely dangerous.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up is the reason Charles Henry Sylvestre was able to sexually abuse more than forty-five little girls, undetected, over a period spanning several decades. The Philosophy of Shutting Up destroyed these girls from the inside out. They grew up with large portions of their childhoods completely unremembered. They grew up with unexplained fears and trauma. They grew up broken.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up is the reason serial killers can brag about their exploits to their drinking buddies and avoid capture for a dozen years or more.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up is why drug dealers and thieves are not turned in to the police by their friends who know exactly what they’re up to.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up is the reason rapists roam the streets at night, knowing that their mothers are aware of their activities but will die before turning them in.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up is the reason that teachers, babysitters, uncles, parents, and friends can molest twelve-year-olds and nobody knows or cares.

     The Philosophy of Shutting Up has existed for thousands of years and is the reason we idolize history without realizing that every single human being this planet has ever produced is just as screwed up as we are.

     This is reality. Crime and abuse are concealed and therefore flourish. The world we live in is cold and dark. The thing that really kills me, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Why are we so quiet, anyway? We’re quick to point out the annoying idiosyncrasies and foibles of our companions, but we grow silent upon discovering any serious wrongdoing. Let me ask you something. What possible gain is there in concealing a dangerous truth like abuse? There is no conceivable situation in which the proper response is to let this person keep doing the things he is doing. Once you have this information, you become partly responsible. If you have the power to halt —or at least expose— these atrocities, why on earth are you hesitating? The only argument I can think of is that turning in an abuser or a criminal will harm him. “You don’t understand. Jail will be the end of her.” “His friends will turn their backs on him if they discover he’s molesting his niece.” “Cheri will leave him if she finds out he’s cheating, and he needs her.” I just have one thing to say about these situations: the victim always has top priority. Always. Speak up. Please. You have no idea how destructive secrecy is. We’d all like to be superheroes. We’d all like to make a difference. But when the opportunity comes, when the moment arrives where you can truly fight crime, are you going to let it pass you by?

     Concealing dangerous truths is nothing more or less than neglecting your civic duty. If someone you know is hurting someone else, speak up. Say something, please. Anything. Tell me and I’ll say it. Whatever, just don’t let it stay a secret. And the same goes if someone is hurting or abusing you. Come on, people. We have the chance to make a difference here. We are lights in the darkness. Don’t hide the flame. Truth is really the only weapon we have sometimes.

     Speaking of weapons, I’m going to go finish my episode of Law and Order. I really need to see how this one ends. It’s pretty hardcore. This guy’s family got kidnapped by loan sharks, but he didn’t tell anyone. His little daughter actually ended up getting raped by her captors. All because he wouldn’t tell Detective Goren what he needed to know.

     Huh. Imagine that.


  1. Your thoughts, once again, are so entertaining and spot on. I want to take credit, but I think your style comes more from your dad. Hey, I know-I'll take credit for the logical gene. Hee Hee.Please remember me in your future book dedication. $$$

  2. How does this sound? "To my fabulous mother, without whose never-ending love and support this book would have been finished in half the time." I jest, I jest! You're the best, Mama. <3 I love you.

    *dedication text poached from P. G. Wodehouse


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