SecretI could be viewed as the instigator. I contacted Owen, a friend of mine, about discussing a proposition. To help persuade him I invited him to lunch at his favorite fried-chicken place. He was gnawing a drumstick as my words sank in, and his chewing ground to a stop. Did I make it stop?

“I don’t get it,” he finally said. “Just make up your own mind. Why pay me?”

“You’ll work harder if you get paid for succeeding. If you get paid for failing you’d have no incentive to succeed.”

“What’s the secret?”

“I’d be paying you to convince me not to tell it, so telling you would violate the spirit of our agreement.”

He put the drumstick down and wiped his hands on a paper napkin.

“You seem able to restrain yourself with me.”

“You don’t need to know.”

“Couldn’t this go on bothering you indefinitely?”

“If you convince me, I’ll tell you. Do we have a deal?”

“I want a time limit. If you haven’t told it in a month, I should be paid.”

“How about two months?”

“How many arguments do you think I can come up with? I’d be repeating myself.”

“Okay, a month.”

“What are your strongest reasons for not telling?”

“I’m afraid of being hated and a target of revenge, and I’d be responsible for whatever damage exposure would cause.”

“You’re not going to weaken and make a call after I leave?”

“I want to hear what you have to say.”

“You’ll hear from me soon.”


“Is it still a secret?”

“As far as I know.”

“Do we both know the people involved?”

“I’m not answering that.”

“Does it have to do with a crime or something that could be judged a crime?”

“I won’t say.”

“If it has to do with a crime, you have to give up the information.”

“It’s not your role to advise that.”

“If it were your secret, wouldn’t you see revealing it as an intrusion?”

“I’d be angry.”

“People could be damaged.”


“Could telling result in violence or families being torn apart?”

“Could be.”

“Do you want to cause that just to ease your conscience?”

“I don’t want to, but should I do it anyway?”

“You can’t foresee the consequences you’d set in motion, all the people who could be affected. You could have blood on your hands.”


“Then what justification can there be for telling?”

“Not knowing the secret affects people’s lives. Not revealing it sets other events in motion.”

“Your conscience will still bother you if you tell. You’d be no better off, and you don’t know if others would be better off either.”

“Would you want the way you lead your life to be based on a kept secret?”

“Would I want you to decide to be the one to turn my life upside down? Why should that be up to you?”

“I’m the one who knows.”

“Is it up to you to decide what I should know? Maybe if you told me, it would turn out I already knew.”

“Unlikely, but not impossible.”

“There are so many unknowns in this. You could be unleashing havoc that would never be healed. You’d be assuming a role of power over people that could burden you the rest of your life. You might never stop thinking of it, which you should remember when you consider the limited and temporary relief you’d feel by telling.”

“I’ll give it more thought.”


“Have you told?”

“Not yet.”

“There’s a reason you haven’t.  You don’t feel right about it.”

“And I don’t feel right about not telling.”

“Why would you hire me to dissuade you if you want to tell?”

“I’m tempted. Something compels me to speak.”

“For your sake?”

“Not just for my sake.”

“The people who’d be affected may know other people who’d be affected, maybe businesses or employees and their livelihoods. Everyone touched by this could be worse off, all to serve your ideal of purity about the truth. You should focus on the damage you could do and the prospect of seeing the faces of those people who’d look at you and know you’d irreversibly changed things for them and others. Can you live with that? There may be more to this secret than you can imagine.”

“I think this is enough for today.”

“Am I interfering with your decision? Is it fair for you to cut me off and then hold me accountable if I fail?”

“That’s what I’m doing. I’ve got enough to think about. Thank you.”

“More later, then.”


“It’s me.”

“I’ve got some news for you.”

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.”

“How old is the news?”

“Not old.”

“You’ve told without telling me you would?”

“Why would I tell you?”

“To give me a fair chance to talk you out of it.”

“This is bigger than our deal.”

“It seems underhanded to tell the secret without letting me know first, and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t say that. How are people taking your imposed revelation? Are they drinking heavily and packing their bags?”

“I won’t get into that.”

“Afraid it would put you in a bad light? You want me to tell you why you didn’t call me before you cracked? Because you didn’t want me to talk you out of it.”

“Why would I want you to talk me out of it after I’d decided?”

“Why did you tell? What tipped you over?”

“If it came out later, there’d have been regrets about not knowing sooner, which made me think it would be better to know now.”

“I’m guessing you’ve seen some of the effects. Did you do the right thing?”

“If someone else doesn’t do the right thing, am I responsible?”

“If you push someone, can you say you didn’t start it?”

“Am I to blame if the presence of my hand is interpreted as a push?”

“How do you interpret it?”

“I can’t be sure.”

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