"Listen, do you want to know a secret...."
Of course you want to know. Doesn't everybody? Be honest now. How excited do you get when a friend or colleague starts a conversation or segues off on a tangent with the words, "I've got a secret to tell you." Just the hint of a secret sets off muted paroxysms - a social/emotional oxymoron - of salacious anticipation.
Sharing a secret, even one that fails to rise beyond prosaic, creates a deeper bond with a person, peeling back another layer of their personal onion, blurring the boundary between you and them. That's a large part of the power of secrets.
Knowing there's a secret others in your social sphere share that you don't creates tension and anticipation, a longing more aching than untracked powder on the other side of a "closed" boundary rope. "Why can't I know? Is it about, gasp, me?" That's also the power of secrets, the dark side if you will.
Those are the two cutting edges of secrets: shared, they create intimacy and strength; kept, they create suspicion, envy and alienation.
We all have secrets; it's part of being three-dimensional human beings. Some are benign, like the secrets we keep about a friend's surprise party. Some are malignant, like your friend's sobbing confession of spousal infidelity. Some you only share with yourself, shameful episodes from your past, fears of inadequacy. Some you share for mixed reasons - to include and exclude.
I shy away from secrets. I don't have a good enough memory to remember whether something's a secret or not. That's not to say people don't tell me secrets; they do. Their secrets usually start, "This is off the record...." Well of course it's off the record. Everything's off the record when you're a columnist and can state things without attribution. So what if I don't remember who told me one or the other of our councillors has his head so far up his posterior he doesn't know the difference between, say, an ambulance chaser and someone just doing their job. Heck, that hardly narrows down the field.
But secrets in the public domain are almost always poisonous. For starters, they usually have a pretty short half-life as secrets - especially in small towns - and once known, further erode the credibility of the secretkeepers. "I can't believe they wanted to keep that secret!"
Successfully kept public secrets, ironically, have an even more corrosive effect. They cast unshakable suspicions on the motives of the secretkeepers. When our elected leaders had to hinge their fight against ousting the Cheakamus Crossing asphalt plant - I promise, this isn't about that - on a secret so potentially damaging none could whisper it, they lost credibility and motivated some people, wrongly, to conclude they had something sinister to hide.