The voice mail is from a producer of a new “docudrama” series. Docudrama, I learn when I call back, is the next evolution of reality television.
Docudrama explores the lives of real people and real issues. As opposed to mere reality television, which is content to film the banalities of, say, a family of bearded brothers who make duck calls and have strong, negative religious opinions about homosexuals. Or people fishing for tuna. Or crabs. Or walking around naked in a wilderness without food or water (but followed around by people with cameras who are wearing clothes and probably brought lunch).
Don’t laugh. I saw a life-size cardboard cutout of one of those duck-call brothers in Wal-Mart the other day. He’s famous. For what, exactly, I’m not sure. But that’s what this culture has come to.
The new series wants to explore the lives of people who are or once were leading double lives. Clandestine relationships. Compulsions/addictions. Crime. Hidden identities. Why do people do this? When, if ever, do they tell the truth? Do they want to tell the truth? Is there some kind of “rush” associated with conning the world, or at least conning close friends and family? Is it driven by power? Or shame?
The producer is calling me because she stumbled across a Human Matters column wherein I responded to a married woman talking about her longtime affair with a married man. The producer wonders how often I work with Double Lifers in my private practice, and whether I know someone I might refer for the new show.
“Yikes,” I say. And, to her credit, the producer is very sensitive to my ethical conundrum.
Confidentiality is holy ground for me. A well-developed psychic muscle. Believe it or not, I myself don’t immediately remember every dark confession made in session, preferring to focus on the hope, healing and new life for which my patients reach so courageously.
In short, I can’t imagine myself ending a session by saying, “Say, would you like to confess your double life to your spouse and family on television? I can hook you up.”
Still, perhaps some people want to tell their story. Need to. And, sometimes, for some people, maybe telling the story in public is useful, powerful and cleansing.
I tell the producer what I think.
Human beings, each, are contradictions. This is the nature of the human heart. All of us are, in cycles, at war with our instinctual selves. Sometimes we win the war. Sometimes we don’t. And none of us tell every detail of every war.
It’s impossible to reach middle age without some things hidden. Secrets, I guess. The good folks at Alcoholics Anonymous are fond of saying, “You are as sick as your secrets.”
I get their point, but they overstate the case. The saying should read “Some secrets keep us sick.” That is, truth to whom the truth is due — yes! Confession in carefully selected, faithful relationships — yes! Other secrets should rightly remain secret. Truth-telling is a much more serious, complicated and rigorous moral discipline than mere boundaryless exhibitionism. It is immoral to tell every truth to every/anyone.
The producer’s call makes me think about the fuzzy lines between privacy (a good thing), discretion (a classy, well-mannered thing) and leading an outright double life. A man who privately revels in a co-workers eye-popping cleavage might not share his revelry with his wife, because he’s being discreet. But a man with two wives and two families in two different towns, each unknown to the other, is leading a double life.
There is a line between those two things. Where is it?
Leading a double life is taxing and costly to the soul. Many Double Lifers are quite literally dying to be found out, “accidentally” dropping clues everywhere even as they cover their tracks.
Perhaps telling many people different fragments of truth, thus preventing anyone from knowing the whole truth.
Do you need to tell your story? Well, now I have the name and phone number of a producer who wants to help you do that. On television. “We are able to preserve the anonymity if the person does not want to reveal their identity, and we are also able to re-enact the past if this person’s secret has already been released but they feel their experience needs to be shared with a mass audience.”
Ah, but here’s another fuzzy line. Hiding a double life can be deadly. But undiscerning, radical exposure can be deadly, too.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.