Preserving Privacy and Protecting Capacity for Intimacy

16 Feb 2016

Despite what you may have been told as a child, sharing is not always caring.

We are living in a transparent generation where the trend is towards sharing in the extreme. Over coffee with friends, at the water cooler with co-workers, and increasingly on social media, people are revealing more and more about their personal lives, their innermost thoughts and feelings, and their most private experiences.

In theory, the movement towards greater sharing should yield better relationships, closer connections, and improved capacity for emotional intimacy. After all, being open with a person is a fundamental part of connecting with that person. And yet, more and more research confirms that in fact it is doing the opposite. An obsession with sharing and a proclivity for being revealing actually damages relationships, hurts self-esteem, increases anxiety, lowers self-control, and breeds narcissism.

In Judaism, the more valuable and treasured something is, the more private and protected we keep it. The more it is accessible, revealed, and exposed, the cheaper it becomes. Indeed, the Torah’s perspective is that genuine intimacy is achieved when something is private, exclusive, and inaccessible to others. This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The less we practice privacy and modesty in each of these arenas, the greater the challenge we have achieving authentic intimacy in them.

A New York Times article on privacy and sharing on the Internet began, “Imagine a world suddenly devoid of doors. None in your home, on dressing rooms, on the entrance to the local pub or even on restroom stalls at concert halls. The controlling authorities say if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you shouldn’t mind. Well, that’s essentially the state of affairs on the Internet. There is no privacy.”

The article continues by quoting research that confirms what the Torah has known all along: “The problem is that if you reveal everything about yourself or it’s discoverable with a Google search, you may be diminished in your capacity for intimacy. This goes back to social penetration theory, one of the most cited and experimentally validated explanations of human connection. Developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas A. Taylor in the 1970s, the theory holds that relationships develop through gradual and mutual self-disclosure of increasingly private and sensitive personal information.

‘Building and maintaining an enduring, intimate relationship is a process of privacy regulation,’ said Dr. Altman, now an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Utah. ‘It’s about opening and closing boundaries to maintain individual identity but also demonstrate unity with another, and if there are violations then the relationship is threatened.’”

Our parsha, Terumah, introduces us to the layout and floor plan of the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle. The outer courtyard hosted the altar where sacrifices were offered. The Kodesh, or the holy section, housed the menorah and the shulchan. The last section was the Kodesh Ha’Kadashim, the Holy of Holies that housed the Aron and was only entered by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. Our sacred ark which held our sacred luchos and the original Torah scroll was in the most private and inaccessible part of the Mishkan.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that we model our personal lives after the structure and layout of the Mishkan:

From the time I was young, I learned to restrain my feelings and not to demonstrate what was happening in my emotional world. My father would say that the holier and more intimate the feeling, the more it should be concealed. There is a hidden curtain that separates between one’s interior and the exterior: “and the dividing curtain shall separate for you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” What location is more sanctified than the inner sanctum of one’s emotional life?

In this world “devoid of doors” we need to be all the more mindful to keep our paroches, our curtain up, and protect the Holy of Holies of our lives. This is not to suggest that one should not share his or her emotions and feelings at all and keep them bottled up; obviously that is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. But the Holy of Holies was seen by a selective audience, only the Kohen Gadol.

Share your strong feelings, innermost thoughts and personal emotions with your spouse, or a family member you trust, or a close friend or confidant. But, not every thought or feeling needs to be made public. Not every personal experience or event merits sharing. Not every moment of frustration or point of pride with your job, with your children, or with your experience at a restaurant needs to be fodder for Facebook or with friends.

Failing to be judicious and thoughtful in what and how we share profanes our lives and makes achieving intimate relationships difficult. Preserving our paroches, maintaining the capacity for privacy and mystery, ultimately protects our Holy of Holies and elevates all the relationships in our lives.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.