I now know how to advise my children for their future. Don’t bother swotting for dodgy A-levels. And, why get into debt at university? No, the best way to make a fortune and leave your mark on society is … to keep a diary. Whether you’re in government or in prison, it will serve you well. Embellish it, drop names and, if some of it is true, so much the better.
I think that every life is full of fascinating drama, but some folk are better at making capital from their own and others’ stories. Perhaps, that’s why there has been such upset over Jeffrey Archer’s prison diary. OK, society may benefit from an insight into the hell of life behind bars; and yes, this might highlight issues to be addressed, debated and reformed.
But, we do feel unease when anyone unashamedly reveals the secrets of their personal experiences with others – especially with scant regard for the consequential impact. It seems a betrayal of trust, particularly if the motive appears to be selfish gain. In gaol, the loss of privacy and dignity is part of the punishment, although perhaps counter-productive to the process of rehabilitation. Even so, it’s hard not to feel that, in chronicling day-to-day incarceration, Mr Archer has exploited something delicate in the lives of his fellow inmates.
Absolute privacy is a myth. Modern technology with its security cameras, internet cookies and shopping-lists from our loyalty cards ensures that we are now more highly monitored than ever before. But, more vitally, we share intimacy and secrets amongst our families, friends and communities. These are crucial to our connections as a society and provide strength and support to us as individuals. As one Hindu saint said, “revealing one’s mind and honouring that confidence are the most important symptoms of love.” Sometimes, an issue must be opened up, and it is then a test of our humanity how we resolve matters whilst being considerate and true to one another.
On the spiritual plane, there is certainly no privacy. In the Bhagavad-gita, God says, “I am situated in the heart of everyone and I am watching over every thought and action.” The exact word used is upadrashta, which translates as “the most intimate witness”, and this is coupled with His assertion that “I am also your dear-most friend”. All our foibles are known to God. He may keep a diary, but no secret will ever be exploited. In the Gita, there is no mention of judgement - only the invitation to share in the love of God – to express our fears and hopes and to receive guidance in perfect confidence.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.[ witness ]