A culture of secrecy: business and (in)human rights

I was talking on the phone with my mom tonight. She was concerned.

Robert, um, I’m a little worried about something, she said. I think you’re being a little too open about your life on your blog. (She was talking about my reflections.) Since you’re applying to jobs, people might not appreciate you talking about your drinking habits, the girls you meet, and other personal things.

I assured her everything was fine. I told her that my writing helps me and other people feel not so alone. I told her that I don’t want to work for a business that discourages openness.

Many businesses say they’re transparent and then punish applicants and employees for talking online about how they live their life. Assuming these businesses are transparent in the first place — and they often aren’t; they’re just transparent about the things they want to be transparent about — it’s hypocritical and dangerous to discourage people from being open about their life outside of work.

Here’s the thing…

People need to work to make money. Businesses pay people money to work. This also means that businesses have power. So when they say or suggest that you should not talk about your real life, that you should filter everything, people are forced to listen.

Shut up or go hungry. This is the message from the corporations we support and work for. It’s the most inhuman thing. And it should be the most illegal thing. Yet we make comparatively trivial things illegal — human things: peeing in public, paying for sex, getting in fights, and temporarily altering our brain chemistry. Again, these are human things. The culture of secrecy businesses are forcing upon us is inhuman.

This is why I like working for startups and small businesses. They have more heart than corporations. They haven’t been corrupted by logistics and legalities. They are a pure form of business. They have an idea and they want to realize it. That is all. And they want the best people. And the good ones understand that the best people are complicated, aware, and public facing.

People should feel comfortable about being honest about what they’re facing in life. The Internet is full of facades. This is why a lot of people are depressed, anxious, even suicidal. They feel they can’t voice their problems on a public forum (social media, a blog, etc.)

So what can we do? What can you do? Because if you want this to change, you have to do something.

To start, you can stop only posting your happy moments on social media. Share your sad moments too. And after a few weeks of this, start a blog. Write down stories that can help other people and help yourself. Get to the heart of life, the struggle, the beauty. Share your story! People will care and listen and be affected for the better.

One hesitation you have right now with this is fear of being fired or hired. Another hesitation is of being judged. You’re probably thinking that if you are publicly vulnerable you will become weak.

Fear of being fired is a valid fear. It could happen. But the fear of being judged, let me tell you, is all in your head. People will see you as stronger. It takes a strong person to be vulnerable. Those who keep secrets destroy themselves. They become too weak to handle life.

What can you do about the fear of being fired? Know that it probably won’t happen, that people are more human than you think, even inside inhuman institutions. Also ask yourself a question: Do I want to be caged and employed or free and temporarily unemployed?

To me, the answer is obvious.

What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

– Roberto Bolaño, Godzilla in Mexico