Recently, I asked a friend how much he earns.
“None of your fucking business!” he snorted.
Let me be clear: No, I do not deserve to know his salary. He doesn’t need to know mine. Neither of us has a right to view the pay stubs of anyone (other than a relative handful of business and government officers). Still, I wish he would’ve told me.
I asked out of curiosity, like when I once asked the same friend, “What ever happened to that one calorie that Diet Coke once advertised?”
“None of your fucking business!” he screamed back.
No he didn’t. However, when pressed about why he’s so secretive about his earnings, he responded like most people do: “Because you don’t need to know that.” Why? “Because it’s personal.” So? “You don’t need to know such personal details.” Why not? “Because they’re personal.”
Let’s leave the carousel of kindergarten babble behind. This is not about money. This is not about a right to privacy. It’s about why you choose to exercise that right to begin with.
Too many of us are too private.
Your friends’ Facebook posts of #boring #meals, #opinions on #Gaza, and other hashtagged #thoughts may deceive you into pointing to the demise of personal privacy. When it comes to what we reveal about our lives, though, we are not more open about ourselves—we’re just open to more people. We’re likelier to tweet that we landed new work or new spouses, but we’re as silent as ever about what our jobs pay us and what’s going on under the sheets.
That’s fine. However, your quest for privacy can come at the expense of happiness.
Anytime you purposefully hide any detail about your life—your salary, your love of Right Said Fred, the oral sex you enjoyed in the Port Authority restroom—you do it for one of only two reasons:
- To protect someone else.
- To protect yourself.
Most often, it’s the latter. Obviously, it’s OK to want to avoid potential hurt feelings, humiliation, pain, and other negative consequences. But what did my friend fear would happen had he told me his salary?
“I don’t want people judging me and treating me a certain way based on how much I make,” he explained.
Except, we’re friends. His answer implied that I’m one of those people, or that he’s one of those people, or that we’re both the kind of people handicapped by a delusion that someone’s worth and bank account are synonymous.
We’re not those people. And you might not be, either, but the problem is that many of us deem privacy a sacred virtue beyond debate. We regard certain cultural norms and taboos as inherently confidential matters. We create our own closets, stuffed with all sorts of things we are and things we’ve done. And keeping those doors shut wastes a lot of energy. It’s maddening and saddening.
Now, I’m not insisting that by YouTubing sex acts, Instagraming paychecks, and publicizing all sorts of minutiae, we’ll be shiny, happy people holding hands. I’m not arguing for total openness, just greater openness, especially among friends and loved ones. I live a relatively open life and am happier for it. Like you, I fear judgment—ethical and otherwise—by others. But I recognize that anxiety for what it is: an impediment to a more fulfilled life. I don’t couch my reticence to divulge (what I think are) intimate parts about myself by insisting that “I’m a private person” as if that’s a full—or any—explanation. I recognize my inhibition for what it really is.
The less we judge others when we shouldn’t, the less we worry about others’ reactions, and the more we share with each other, the happier we’ll be. You can start by sharing this post!
(For the record, I was recently laid off, so my current salary: $0. My ability to remain relatively upbeat—not despite—because I’ve told everyone that I’m unemployed: priceless.)