Often news headlines announce that prominent people have been found engaging in actions that fly in the face of their stated convictions. Many a Hollywood drama’s main call to action comes from a character fearing that some dirty secret will become revealed, destroying their life/career/relationship.
In thinking about blackmail and duplicity, I am reminded of a story I read earlier this year about how Russia tried to gain leverage over a foreign national – while on a business trip to Moscow, two prostitutes were sent to his room, with the ensuing actions videotaped from behind a two-way mirror. When the tape was eventually shown to the diplomat, obstensibly to shame/coerce him into some action, he instead laughed uproariously and asked for copies. What leverage did the Russians have over him at that point? Zero.
If someone doesn’t feel shame or regret about something they’ve done, it would be difficult to use that information against them. Obviously there are some topics that could distract from a more important narrative or discussion, but by and large I don’t see how things one isn’t bothered by being a large or long enough detail to hurt their career or family in the long run.
This topic came up a few years ago when I was discussing the process of obtaining security clearance with a few infosec professionals, and they mentioned that it’s fine to have skeletons in the closet, so long as the applicant owns up to them during the vetting process – if they’re known, any damage from their subsequent release can be planned for and mitigated ahead of time.
There are things I’ve done and said that I’m not particularly proud of, certainly, but I really can’t think of anything in my life that I would feel I had to actively hide or shy away from. What I’ve done is mine to own and mine to explain, if or when necessary, and I’m comfortable with that.
Not a small part of me wonders what our would would be like if people didn’t have such shame or fear about themselves; where people felt more open and willing to talk about themselves and their lives with honesty and candor, without needing to creatively omit or couch their words so as to rose-tiny reality.
In the aggregate are any of our actions going to be used against us for leverage or blackmail? Absolutely not. What I do find valuable however is the process of examining myself and my actions, and either coming to terms with the rough edges or making plans to be better the next time a like situation arises.
Regret is an innate human emotion, but I think its heavy and burdensome effects are largely of our own design. Wouldn’t it be nice to lighten the load?