By Brenda Miller, Columnist
Everyone has secrets and usually more than one. Some are just secrets to a few people but are open knowledge to most friends or even acquaintances. Others aren’t known beyond the realm of our own mind.
Residence Hall Association’s Post Secret event for Inclusion Week gives residents the option of writing an anonymous message to be publicly posted and shared. The idea is simple. People write down their secrets, lighthearted or serious, on a postcard which will then be displayed with those from other students.
There are many forums, online or otherwise, that are based on the same concept. Post a one to two sentence confession to get it off your chest or a secret to share with complete strangers.
Many people are willing to confide their deepest secrets with people they don’t know. The stipulation, of course, is that they do so anonymously.
Anonymity can be a powerful tool. Many of us have heard Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”
When there is no fear of consequences, we are free to speak as we wish. And what we have to say can carry a lot more weight when it is a naked idea, not attached to a face.
When thoughts are anonymously expressed, there is no source identity to distract attention from the core idea. An unknown speaker adds no pre-formed bias. If some political figure you strongly oppose makes a good point, you are less likely to acknowledge its validity simply because you don’t like the person who is saying it.
Ordinarily, context is helpful when assessing credibility. But when good ideas are rejected purely because of their source, anonymity is a suitable resource.
Depersonalization from the statement also frees the speaker from fear of consequences, and this freedom is what gives anonymity most of its power. Although a lack of consequences for written words may seem dangerous, it usually leads to the truth.
Fear of consequences is what keeps people from saying things that are important to them or even lying to avoid saying something disagreeable. The consequences may be significant, like getting fired or even threatened, or more trivial, like your friends being annoyed at you.
Even when the consequences are trivial, most people tend to avoid unnecessary conflict. It is generally better to tell the truth rather than lie when asked a direct question, even if it is not desirable.
But when it comes to initiating an idea, anonymity can be wonderful. If there is a lot of backlash for an inflammatory opinion, the tendency would be to quickly drop it, if it is even brought up at all.
Without having to worry about the burden of the backlash, an otherwise unspoken idea can make itself known. The faceless speaker can then hear the valid counterarguments while ignoring the unfounded abuse.
Anonymous messages are especially beneficial to those who have some confession to make. How do you tell your parents that you don’t have the same strongly held beliefs that they do? How do you admit that you made a mistake in breaking up with an ex who has already moved on? How do you admit fault to the people who so strongly believe in you?
While it can be a huge release to simply admit what you are thinking, it isn’t easy. And too often it can cause more harm than good.
But making an anonymous confession can relieve the stress of holding that secret and can even be a step toward speaking up about it in person.
The anonymous Post Secret isn’t for everyone – not everyone has a secret message they want to share with the world. But for those that do, the project provides an alternative mode for students to express their serious, amusing or contemplative thoughts in the absence of fear and judgment.