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Conversation - public life, semi-private life, private life Conversation - public life, semi-private life, private life
by Joseph Gatt
2021-04-29 07:02:20
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They say that to have an easy life you need a private life that you would be comfortable sharing and exposing with the public.

But that's far from the case with most people. I would say one of the things that make a lot of Jews stand out economically and socially is that, for a lot of us, our private lives are carefully monitored by our mothers, by our siblings, by our uncles and aunts and cousins, and by our best friends. So when the Jews have that level of accountability, a lot of them lead decent enough private lives. Of course there are lots of exceptions, in the form of the Weinsteins and Madoffs and to many others. But that's a general rule.

lif0001_400_01Public conversation: a lot of people are not comfortable with public conversation and completely refrain from expressing themselves in public.

Others speak in public but refrain from discussing their private lives, and the message in their public speech is one of ideas where they try to completely leave out their private lives.

Others discuss their private lives in public. Some go as far as filming themselves and exposing themselves 24/7, while others have public blogs, V-logs or platforms where they discuss what they did during the day, or share tips with their viewers, if there are viewers that is.

But public conversation does not mean everything is public. A lot of times, people who discuss their lives in public keep several aspects of their lives private, and any revelation from third parties of a part of their life that they think is private can cause emotional stirs and distress.

Semi-private lives: Social media is a form of semi-public, semi-private forum. You communicate publicly with a limited crowd. The crowd is mostly made up of friends and family.

Now there is a real crisis of privacy of sorts. Because telling lies is mostly a form of protecting one's privacy. And a lot of fights involve the betrayal of privacy.

In semi-public forums it's very hard to “filter” privacy, because our definition of privacy varies with time. What was semi-public in high school becomes private in college. What was semi-public in college becomes private at the workplace. What was public in your first marriage becomes private in your second marriage.

In the old days, you could “eliminate” your friends, that is stop calling them and hanging out with them. But in the era of social media, it's going to be very hard to “eliminate” all your friends because what were once public aspects of your life remain public in the form of social media.

Many of course are comfortable with their past and don't try to make their past lives part of their private sphere. Others believe that the past is public but that the present and future are part of the private sphere. Others believe that future plans are public, but that past deeds are part of their sphere of privacy.

Private life: We all lead lives, do things. Some things we do are great, others are stupid. But we keep a lot of the real stuff to ourselves.

“Taboo” topics are really topics that pertain to the private sphere. That is things we all do, but keep private, and don't discuss in public. Sex is taboo in many cultures, but then money is taboo in many cultures. In some cultures failure is taboo, in other cultures success is taboo and you only discuss your failures. In the US failure is taboo and success is celebrated. In France success is taboo and failure tends to be celebrated. In Korea both success and failure are taboo.

Of course taboo topics are not just topics that relate to privacy. They can also be legal or moral violations that people don't engage in, and would go to jail or be expelled if they engaged in such behavior.

The main difficulty in conversation is when two people have very different definitions of what they regard as private matters and public matters. “A” believes work and money are public matters or semi-private matters, “B” believe that work and money should be private matters. “A” believes that religion and ethics are a private matter; “B” believes that religion and ethics belong to the public realm.

When misunderstandings happen: in societies where a privacy-related topic becomes public, a lot of times society doubts and questions the authenticity of the public matter that had always pertained to the realm of privacy.

For example, in a society where money was once a private matter, if money becomes a public matter, people are automatically going to think that everything that is being said about money is made up.

Then there's the fact that some people hint at their private lives without fully exposing their private lives. So they use hints and euphemisms.

Problem is a lot of times people are not hinting at anything and are using plain speech, but the plain speech is assumed to contain hints. An example of this is in France where I would use my good old plain “tactless” (Yiddish for straightforward) speech and people would be accusing me of hinting at stuff. The French thought that if I said “did you study for the marketing class test?” they'd be assuming that I was shaming them for wanting to make money. That kind of nonsense.

The opposite can also be true. Some people try to hint at their private lives and their friends don't get the hints and think they are dealing with plain speech. An example of this is I was once at a teacher's cafeteria with an American Christian professor who assumed I was a Muslim. As soon as she sat down, she went like “I re-read the entire Bible over the weekend” and I went like “the Pentateuch or the entire Old Testament or the New Testament?” and she went like “the whole Bible” and I went like “I couldn't read that in two and a half days, I'd probably get to Kings or Chronicles over two days” at which point my other colleague interrupted and changed the topic. My Bible-reader colleague was just trying to upset who she thought was a Muslim kid. She was hoping I'd confess that I was a terrorist or something, and that would get me fired.

So anyway, conversation can be complicated or frustrating when two individuals have very different definitions of what privacy should be. But conversation can be very pleasant when two individuals have similar notions of what privacy should be.

Arabs have told me, quite a lot that they want to move to Europe or North America because Europeans respect the notion of privacy, when Arabs don't. A lot of French people move to London or Montréal because they feel the local British or Canadian culture respects their privacy more than Paris life would.

And then, a lot of divorces are caused by private matters made public. Either the spouse engages in some private activity that is revealed to the wife or husband. Or something the couple does in the privacy of their own home gets revealed to the wider public.

Then of course, a lot of my readers read my stuff (thanks a million) but keep the fact that they read me private (and I respect that).

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