Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gift of Secrets

As we find ourselves in the season of gift giving, I recalled a great lesson I learned from a man with a simple but profound idea.

“We keep our secrets in a box. Sometimes we bury them deep like a coffin. Sometimes they are like a gift that we open up and share with others,” Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret, said to a packed audience of college students who participated in this year’s Active Minds Annual Conference in New Jersey.

Frank Warren at Active Minds Conference

As a mental health speaker, I love to hear other speakers share their ideas on how to help people thrive. I was especially transfixed by Frank Warren, America’s most trusted stranger, talk about the power of secrets in our lives. Frank started with a simple idea: letting people unburden themselves of their secrets by encouraging all to send their anonymous secrets to him on postcards. What has evolved over the years is a compelling project with a strong suicide prevention message.

Frank has had secrets mailed to him on sea shells, a potato, even a death certificate. Of the millions of secrets he has received from all over the world, he has learned a few things about what we hide about ourselves and how we are very curious to know these potent pieces of information about each other.

“At the center of these secrets there is a kernel of wisdom we can grow from,” Warren states. “When we think we are carrying a secret, sometimes it is actually carrying us. Blocking us from what we might otherwise be.”

Frank has learned one of the important tenets of my resiliency talks – sharing our personal struggles helps us to create intimacy and community with others. When we go beyond “the mask” we wear each day, we create a deeper channel of knowing and a stronger bond. This sense of belonging can help us withstand future challenges we might face. Frank closes his talks by training students on some basic suicide prevention skills: ask the direct question “are you thinking about suicide?” and know your resources for mental health help, like the 1-800-273-8255 Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Frank has also witnessed how we can overcome our brokenness and become more resilient by rising above our hardships in live, “the children almost broken by the world become the adults most likely to change it tomorrow.”

Thank you, Frank, for a wonderful example of how a simple idea can move the world to action.

What are your thoughts on the power of secrets?

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