--United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 1952
Do you want to know exactly what I was doing last Thursday night in my home at 10:35 pm? How about 1:30 pm yesterday afternoon as I drove in my car? 8:30 am on Tuesday when I was on my cell phone? Sunday morning at 10 am?
Who I was with? What I was up to? Wait. Isn't that private?
Unless I was doing something illegal, was a threat to other people or myself, it's really no one's business but my own. Forgive me if that sounds rude. I don't mean it to. I'm sometimes a very public person: as a clergyperson, newspaper columnist and blogger. Lots of my life is free for others to see and to judge. I'm ok with that. Goes with the territory.
It is just that sometimes I also like my privacy. Need my privacy. In fact as a human being and an American citizen, I have a right to privacy. All of us do.
Think about it. As you read this essay at home or work or Starbucks, do you consider it anyone's business that you do so? Does any one person or institution like a government or corporation have the right to know if you are alone or with others? What you talk about? What you are doing? What your life is like behind closed doors?
Privacy is a funny thing. We don't usually consider it until someone or something tries to take it away from us. I thought of this issue of personal privacy in America, as I watched the very public battle last week in Indiana, over that state's passage of a so called "religious freedom" law. In its first iteration, the law seemed to give businesses and business owners the legal right to discriminate against people whose sexual orientation offended one's religious beliefs. It looked like a gay couple seeking marriage related services, for example, could have a business' door shut in their face, legally.
The outcry was huge and immediate. It came from all quarters: big businesses like Wal-Mart and Angie's List, folks of faith, activists, and many residents of Indiana too. The law was "fixed" but one person's take on that debate gave a unique perspective on personal privacy, one absent in our nation's feud about gay marriage. That it came from a sports figure makes it all the more interesting. Said Gene Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team: "I’ve always been fascinated by people who care so much about what other people are and what they do in their personal lives....do you have to...care that much about what other people are doing? Life is hard enough as it is, trying to live your own life.”
Preach it Gene. He could have easily said "what they do in their private lives". Private. If our neighbors love each other and they want to have a family, want to have access to the rights and privileges of married life; if by taking that step they do nothing to make the quality of our collective and personal lives any worse, who are we to presume that we can tell them how to live?
Aren't some things in life still private? Private. Between us and our God, if and when we choose to invite God in. It is our family, right? We live in our homes, not someone else's. We live our lives and at best we do so in freedom and responsibility, and sometimes in private. Whatever happened to "live and let live" and not just for gay marriage but in the rest of life too?
Ultimately my faith is my business. I love my God. I want to share that God with all the world but I do not have the right to force my faith on any other person, nor do I want someone else telling me what I must believe. So too as a public person, I am so grateful for my private life, that who I am and how I live is finally up to me and my God. And in our celebrity, scandal and social media infected lives, I wonder: is anything about anyone private anymore?! I am exhausted by how much everybody shares these days. Enough with the private spilling into the public. Give it a rest!
Yet finally my belief in privacy probably comes from being a lifelong New England Yankee. I'm a true believer in the right of my neighbor to be who he or she wants to be, that how they live is really not my business. It's about respect and boundaries. I hope they rush over to my door and offer fresh baked cookies, but they can also can keep to themselves too. It's up to them, not me. Robert Frost had it right: sometimes good fences do make good neighbors.
There's the private. There's the public. I've got enough to deal with in just my own life, let alone yours' or anyone else's. And yes, I'll confess: last Thursday night at 10:35 pm I was watching "Mad Men" on Netflix.
Keep it private, ok?