Keeping secrets builds walls. Sharing secrets builds bridges. These were the words burning in my brain that night as I tossed and turned, mulling over the images and words from the stories shared at the PostSecret Live event.
Trust – a concept of safety. Trust is necessary for any sort of love and friendship. Trust, without a question, is woven into everyday life. Trust is inescapable. Everyone has secrets. Do you trust anyone with all of your deepest secrets? Should you trust anyone with all of your deepest secrets?
Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret.com, is said to be the most trusted stranger on this planet. His initial goal was to receive 365 secrets from strangers. He now has over a million. He receives secrets via postcards (that’s right, snail mail). He scans the postcards, selects a few favorites, and posts them every Sunday on his blog. Warren’s little side project has blossomed into a worldwide community of support.
This gigantic community is created in mini form at these Post Secret levents. You can just feel the warmth emanating from each person- you know every individual is there for a specific reason, to deal with their own struggle- just like you are. Everyone is there to find hope. An unspoken bond connecting all people in the room.
Frank had struggles too. He addressed us while seated casually on a stool, describing his journey through the project. The audience listened intently, hanging on every word, as if each word might spark some new epiphany for their current struggle. He didn’t fully grasp it when he began the project, but he realizes now he started the site because he needed a safe place to share his own secrets. His epiphany came when he received a photo of a bedroom door with holes. On the photo was scrawled “the holes are from when my mom tried knocking down the door so she could continue beating me.” After this was posted, the emails came pouring in, each with a picture attached of their own door with their own holes. One read that she was not saddened by the sight of this picture. In fact, she was relieved. She felt lighter. A burden had been lifted off her chest. There were others out there dealing with the same issues she was. That was when Frank remembered he had a broken door of his own growing up. He had finally created the safe environment he didn’t know he craved, while also making people feel connected through images and words in a way that hadn’t ever been done before.
Frank then gave the power to the audience, and provided two microphones in the back of the room for anyone to share. Some voices cracked with anxiety, others radiated confidence, but no matter the story, claps always ensued in support for their bravery. The fact that you can trust an audience of 1800 strangers more than someone you have known for years is an odd experience. These people shared their stories because they believed that by sharing, they could help someone else see the light at the end of the tunnel, or help someone else feel they were not alone. By sharing, they could build a bridge.
The first bridge was built by a woman who saw a secret displayed in the exhibit outside the venue. Someone was going to put a gun in their mouth after graduation. That person was sitting in that very audience. She pleaded, as tears poured, that they come find her after the show and let her hug them, or find someone to hug- and if anyone in the audience was considering something like this, to find her after the show and let her hug them too.
A boy came up and said he had committed suicide. My ears perked up. Not attempted suicide, he had successfully committed suicide. His heart had stopped beating, but the doctors were able to revive him. He was in a coma for six days after that, and had to learn how to walk all over again. He wanted to thank the doctors at UCLA, and one person in particular. She was there when he woke up for the first time, fed him his first meal, and treated him not like just another patient she was required to spend time with, but like a friend. His face was so full of life I was in disbelief that he had wanted to die at any point. But this story was concrete evidence to me that a person’s actions can make such a difference in one person’s life.
PostSecret Live made me envision a world where the stigma of secrets is nonexistent. You shouldn’t trust someone else to keep your secret. You should trust someone else to learn from your secret, and use your secret to have a more intimate friendship or relationship with you. Secrets shouldn’t be used against one another. Secrets shouldn’t be told in whispers. They should be told on microphones, in front of crowds of 1800 people. Suicide is not a secret. Abuse is not a secret. Mental illness is not a secret. These things need to be talked about and prevented, if at all possible.
We don’t know anyone’s struggles unless they talk about them. Your most hated, most humiliating secret could literally save someone’s life. You could change someone’s life and not even know it. Will you build walls, or will you build bridges?