Nov 18, 2009

Is there anything private anymore?

The "let it all hang out" mentality has finally reached the frum world.  Articles with people's personal life stories abound.  I will admit, some of these accounts are fascinating to me but I'd like to differentiate between an inspirational life story of how someone became a baal teshuva, for example, and sharing details about one's divorce. 

A book published by a Jewish publisher last year had me cringing.  The author describes her feelings as her divorce was finalized.  Her situation is heartbreaking but as I read it I thought: Why are you telling the world these intensely private feelings and thoughts?

Some will say that people in her situation will feel comforted to know that they are not alone in their sorrow.  This may be true, but at what price? Where is the tznius in speech?

It's worse when the author signs their name but even anonymous tell-all articles are questionable.  They feed our voyeuristic inclinations.  They put us on a par with those who sit glued to their televisions as the host of the program urges the guest to tell the audience the juicy details of their sensational and/or sordid story . 

Frum readers are frequently presented with stories about how someone's marriage failed, how a person could not stop eating, about why they went off the derech, about how their parents mistreated them, how they were sexually molested, how they descended into depression, about their panic attacks, their obsessions, their husband's drinking, their discovery of their husband's gambling or pornography.

I have registered my protest more than once to a publication that allowed a writer to describe how their mothers did terrible things to them.  Was a rabbi consulted about the halachic permissibility of publicizing this information? Even if the halacha would allow it (which I doubt), why is there no shame in telling the world about the failings of one's closest relatives?

I am getting the message that keeping things to yourself and telling only the few people who can be helpful to you is selfish! If you cared about others, you would share your pain so others can be comforted by your story!

Are there times and places when a personal story can be told? Definitely.  Can a personal story about failing and rehabilitation be helpful to others? Yes.

When is the line between appropriateness and crassness crossed? Let's see if we can come up with guidelines.

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