How To Be Dis­creet

Sur­viv­ing in a so­ci­ety where vul­gar­ity has be­come cur­rency


We live in ex­ceed­ingly vul­gar times. There is a gnaw­ing sense that we are all hurtling to­ward the end of a civ­i­liza­tion that may have been im­per­fect but still strove for de­cency. And yet here we all are, fee­ble spec­ta­tors to an ex­is­ten­tial car­nage where ob­scen­ity has be­come the new nor­mal—be it in the form of dead bod­ies strewn along the streets, or white su­prem­a­cists openly ral­ly­ing for the re­turn to the good old days of slav­ery, or pres­i­dents glee­fully pil­lag­ing gov­ern­ment funds for their per­sonal ben­e­fit, or shame­less sen­a­tors cod­dling the prover­bial big fish who hap­pen to be re­lated to some­one pow­er­ful, or trolls buoyed by on­line anonymity push­ing fake news and bul­ly­ing those who op­pose their views… the list is end­less.

Amidst such vul­gar­ity, there must still be some virtue in be­ing dis­creet. Yet how does one re­main dis­creet in an era where over­ex­po­sure is cel­e­brated, where an on­line pres­ence seems to mat­ter more than real life, where ev­ery­thing, from cat­a­strophic floods to the loss of a 17-year-old son falsely ac­cused by the po­lice of be­ing a drug run­ner, is treated as a photo op, with the more vi­ral its reach, the bet­ter?

We lead such pub­lic lives these days, doc­u­mented and shared on so­cial me­dia sites, that to in­sist on pri­vacy can be con­strued as con­trived— a cyn­i­cal pub­lic re­la­tions move with an­other fil­ter, just not Valencia.

Nowa­days it would ap­pear that there is more to be­ing dis­creet than logo-less cloth­ing, se­ri­ous but un­der­stated jewelry, and pri­vate jets— ac­cou­trements that whisper lux­ury rather than scream “de­signer.” Yet the def­i­ni­tion of dis­creet has be­come most elu­sive. Per­haps it is eas­ier to de­fine what is not dis­creet rather than what is. For in­stance, how­ever dis­mal the state of one’s mar­riage may be, is it dis­creet (never mind wise) to go cry­ing to the pres­i­dent—a man for whom the words “bound­aries” and “fil­ter” have no mean­ing at all—about a fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment? By the same to­ken, is it dis­creet to make a cat­fight be­tween two ex­tra­mar­i­tal lovers the ba­sis for one con­gress­man to sud­denly bring on the heat upon an­other? In­deed, is it dis­creet to trum­pet the fact that you are hav­ing an af­fair—“Doesn’t ev­ery­body have one?”—in a coun­try where many men do have one, but many women have no re­course but to turn a blind eye and live in mis­ery be­cause we don’t have divorce? In­dis­cre­tion does have its ad­van­tages, how­ever. Dis­cre­tion was val­ued dur­ing more gen­teel times be­cause it safe­guarded se­crets, pro­tected hypocrisies, killed scan­dals be­fore they could sur­face, and be­stowed a ve­neer of pro­pri­ety upon so­ci­ety. Think of all the clos­eted gay ac­tors who por­trayed dash­ing lead­ing men. Or aris­to­crats who fa­thered chil­dren out of wed­lock. Or pres­i­dents with in­sa­tiable sex­ual ap­petites who en­joyed a pro­ces­sion of paramours go­ing in and out of the White House. JFK, is that you? Many may have lived to re­gret a mo­ment of in­dis­cre­tion, but if this one mo­ment man­aged to bring about an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, or change leg­is­la­tion, or en­cour­age greater trans­parency in per­sonal, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment deal­ings, then per­haps it wasn’t all for naught. Just don’t go around post­ing on so­cial me­dia, ac­com­pa­nied by #blessed or #grate­ful or #thank­ful. But do men­tion your spon­sors if you’re be­ing paid to post. There is a dis­creet way of do­ing so. Just ask Bryan­boy. •

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