Sh’ma asked several people to reflect on how they weigh matters of privacy in their personal and professional lives — when privacy and intimacy overlap, and when revealing something private is helpful or not. Two of those reflections are printed here; others are found on shma.com and in our digital edition.
In William Carlos Williams’ “Danse Russe,” the poet dances naked “against the yellow drawn shades,” singing softly to himself while his wife and children sleep, “I am lonely, lonely,/I was born to be lonely,/I am best so!” This image captures, for me, the essence of where I choose to place myself in relationship to my spouse.
My husband and I have been married for 41 years. Together, we have experienced the birth of children and the death of siblings and parents. We know how to share a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Ironically, the strength of our intimacy emerges from a deep well of privacy.
Each evening, I look forward to hearing the stories of his day, which he relates as we slice onions or knead pizza dough. And, each evening, as we share our meal, I recount my tales and observations. But I always hold something back — a friend’s secret, perhaps, or a child’s worry — both to honor the trust others have placed in me and to protect my own inwardness. I imagine that my husband does the same.
Of course, it is a cliché to say that we enter and exit the world naked and alone. Yet, during the time we are alive, we must respect the privacy of our lovers, just as Noah’s sons covered their father’s nakedness while looking backward. (Genesis 6:22-23) As Williams’ poet proclaims, “Who shall say I am not/the happy genius of my household?”
A teacher, writer, and consultant with the National Writing Project, Carnie Burns was the first executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. She now lives in San Francisco.
Living in the Open
I am not a particularly private person. While I rarely strike up casual conversations or make easy acquaintances, I will speak about almost anything and I will answer most questions. I value honesty and open communication over the social conventions that suggest we hide our troubles and grief.
Of course, not everyone feels as I do. And, some of the people who feel otherwise have employed me, or they may someday employ me, or they may be congregants or students or the parents of students. I realized, while I was in rabbinical school, that while it was healthy for me to maintain my honesty/openness/fiery-opinions attitude in my personal life, it could jeopardize my professional standing if I let it spill out too much into the public side of my life.
During my fourth year of rabbinical school, a few of my high school students asked to friend me on Facebook. Fighting my initial instinct toward openness, I realized that this online communication would surely be seen by others as inappropriate, and — depending on what I said online, and how those students took it — it might become so. Over the years, I’ve adopted similar policies about how much to disclose and how friendly to be in professional relationships — especially when I am in a position of authority.
For some people, I’m sure this is a simplistic “no-brainer” response. For me, it isn’t, because I believe that we have intertwined our personal privacy with numerous kinds of etiquette that are counterproductive to our interpersonal and social health. We should actually be concerned about other people and not ask after them if we don’t want real responses. We should feel free to be honest with our acquaintances about our feelings and about what’s happening in our lives, rather than assuming it would be too revealing. We should communicate our opinions with one another openly, rather than fear judgment. We shouldn’t have to hide who we are in order to maintain respect and serve our community.
We are as God made us: error-prone, inconsistent, zealous, desirous, passionate, comical, and tragic. Humanity is a thing of splendor in all its messy glory. And our first and best path to better knowing the One who made us is to relate to one another honestly and openly, not to hide ourselves away.
Rabbi Amitai Adler, who blogs for Sh’ma, is interim rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel in Aurora, Ill. He teaches in Deerfield, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, and their children.email print