DH = Dear Husband
I once taught a girl who was later killed by her brother in an “honour killing“. She was in a large grade 10 class of mine for a short period of time before the class was split into two smaller ones. News of the killing a few years later was utterly shocking. Just this past spring, a colleague of mine talked with me about his connection with the girl. “She came and sat in my class after school every day because she said it was the only place where she felt safe. I told her she needed to contact the police about her brother’s threats, but she said she couldn’t ‘dishonour her family’ like that.”
Secrets for family “honour”
Yesterday, I was on the phone with someone for close to 2 hours. I didn’t say much at all. A steady stream of words flowed out of this normally quiet woman whom I’ve known at a polite surface level for almost 2 decades. It was like a cork had been unplugged, and the family secret gushed out. A sibling who had always been “difficult” had been committing elder abuse against her parents, now in their 80s, for years. Emotional, psychological, financial, and physical abuse about which nothing had been done “because my parents couldn’t call the police on their son.”
The case of Atticus and Boo Radley
Did you read To Kill a Mockingbird? Published in 1960, it tells the story of a girl and her brother being raised by their father through the 1930s in a very racist Alabama. I have always loved the character Atticus, and I’m not alone. Earlier this year, headlines in the UK declared, “To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch voted most inspiring character” in literature.
Atticus is the father of the main character, and Boo (a nickname) Radley is the son of a neighbour. Boo has been locked in his family home for well over a decade – punishment for his run-in with the law as a teenager. Atticus instructs his children, fascinated by rumours of the imprisoned neighbour they’d never met, to respect the Radleys’ privacy and to mind their own business. He clearly feels for the unfortunate inmate of the Radley family, but he accepts his neighbour’s right to do as he sees fit in his own household.
Shifting views on honour and secrets
Atticus balanced discretion and compassion with what would be called “honour” at the time To Kill a Mockingbird was published. But today, his silent acceptance of a neighbour’s abuse is confounding. If we could set the book in 2016, Atticus would have called the police and the Children’s Aid Society long ago. He would explain the situation to his children in plain English instead of being vague and telling them to mind their own business.
The times have changed, yet clearly, people today still feel bound by secrets. Secrets to protect family members who are abusive or alcoholic or drug addicted or mentally ill . . . And what a price we pay! “You’ve carried this anger and fear for years!” I said to my friend yesterday over the phone as she opened up about her brother’s elder abuse. “And acting like everything was normal must have been so draining. You must know it’s taken its toll on you.” She recognized that it had.
The price my student paid for her secrecy is unthinkable.
Keeping your debt problem a secret hurts you
Two years ago, I wrote a post about debt and personality type, and a woman who used the name “Anonymous”* left a comment like I have never seen before – so raw in its expression of discouragement. In it, she included these words: “I would die before I would reveal to anyone IRL (in real life) that I have a debt problem.”
Clearly, keeping your debt problem a secret is not like keeping abuse a secret. The neighbours have no obligation to call the authorities when someone is struggling with debt. But this is an area where we still keep very stubborn boundaries of, “It’s private. It’s my business. It’s not your business.” And while all of that is true, here is something else that’s true: Keeping your debt problem a secret hurts you.
No honour in secrecy about personal debt
There is no honour in secrecy about personal debt. How great it is that people can find a safe place to share their struggles with debt online! But the disconnect that can exist between online honesty and IRL secrecy is something to correct – to align. Whether you know it or not, you’ve been paying a price for “protecting your honour”.
I have lived the worry, the shame, and the hopelessness that debt can be. When carried in secret, this negative baggage is a draining dead weight. Talking about it – and I mean IRL – and not with everybody, just one or two trusted people – might amaze you with how much relief it offers. Taking on your debt is challenging enough on its own. Don’t carry a bigger burden than you need to as you take steps to pay it off. Lighten the load, and see how much easier it is to step forward.
Did your family give you the burden of secrets to keep? Have you ever tried to convince someone to stop protecting someone else’s secret abuse or addiction? Have you talked about your debt IRL? Or do you restrict your debt talks to the online sphere? Your comments are welcome.
Image courtesy of Rebecca Barray
*(Anonymous, do you still read this blog on occasion? I haven’t heard from you in a long time. I hope that you are making encouraging progress. I would love to know how you are doing.)