A Balanced View of Privacy
THE reasons why people want privacy are manifold and diverse. Youths may desire privacy to assert their independence. Some want their finances kept private because of shady dealings. Persons tested for the AIDS virus are often concerned that the results be kept private. And many want quiet, private surroundings in which to meditate.
When Privacy Is Needed
Persons facing difficult situations treasure moments to be alone. Such periods of privacy, according to Yoko, a young woman in Tokyo, Japan, are vital to help her to cope. One day, for example, when the butcher delivered her order, her mother-in-law received it and threw a whole chicken into the garbage can, just to put Yoko in a bad light. Facing such incidents day in and day out, Yoko says, makes invaluable the time she spends by herself in privacy.
Thinking matters out when alone can help a person decide on a proper course. “Be agitated, but do not sin,” the Bible wisely counsels. “Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.” (Psalm 4:4) “Really,” the Bible psalmist further says, “during the nights my kidneys have corrected me.” (Psalm 16:7) His “kidneys,” or his deepest emotions, corrected him as he pondered over events.
Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, highly esteemed privacy. Upon receiving the news that his cousin John the Baptizer had been beheaded, he “withdrew from there by boat into a lonely place for isolation.” (Matthew 14:13) Also, the night before his death, he took time to be alone to pray. (Matthew 26:36-47) Earlier, he instructed his disciples on this matter: “When you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret.”—Matthew 6:6.
Yet, as much as we need privacy, placing too much emphasis on it can lead to problems. “Either too much privacy or too little,” states The Encyclopedia Americana, “can create imbalances that seriously jeopardize individual well-being.” How can this be?
In Canada, a two-foot [0.6 m] fence around a property was replaced by a six-foot-high [1.8 m] enclosure to provide more privacy. The result? The interchange of warm neighborly concern was cut off. In another more extreme instance, a family moved to a wilderness to get away from all other humans. The couple had their children taught through correspondence courses. But, sadly, the couple broke up, and their children suffered, since they were ill-equipped to make a living.
Choosing to isolate oneself from others is unwise. People need people. All of us need the strength and help that we can draw from others. “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing,” the Bible proverb says. “Against all practical wisdom he will break forth.”—Proverbs 18:1.
Jesus demonstrated exemplary balance in this regard. After a particularly strenuous period, Jesus recognized his disciples’ need for some privacy, so he said: “Come, you yourselves, privately into a lonely place and rest up a bit.” The crowd, however, got ahead and were waiting for them when they arrived. How did Jesus react? “He was moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. And he started to teach them many things.” Yes, Jesus gave priority to helping people.—Mark 6:31-34.
Need to Respect Others’ Privacy
Concern for people, however, should be kept within limits. Gentle ripples on a shore are soothing, but raging tidal waves can be devastating. To show concern for others is fine, but to poke one’s nose into other people’s business can sever a peaceful relationship. The Bible wisely advises: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”—Proverbs 25:17.
A friendly visit once in a while can be like soothing ripples, but to overdo it can cause others to build up a psychological breakwater to keep out the pounding waves of incessant visitations. In the barren waste of gadding about on meaningless visits, seeds of gossip and rumor grow. If you expect others to respect your privacy, you must also honor the privacy of others by refraining from what may be considered embarrassing personal questions and gossip.
“Let none of you suffer . . . as a busybody in other people’s matters,” warns the Bible. (1 Peter 4:15) Referring to some busybodies in the first century, an educated Christian wrote: “They also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses; yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not.”—1 Timothy 5:13.
What Prospect for Privacy?
“A privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God,” wrote English poet Robert Browning. Absolute privacy, however, is only a mirage. In the Orient, there is an old saying: “Heaven knows, earth knows, I know, and you know.” The Christian apostle Paul wrote: “All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13.
Rather than wanting to be forgotten by God, how happy we can be that our loving Creator takes an interest in us! Since he is our Source of life, to be forgotten by him would lead to loss of life itself. (Psalm 36:9; 73:27, 28) Yet, Jehovah’s interest in us is not obtrusive; he does not watch our every move with the intent of finding fault. “He has not done to us even according to our sins,” his Word says, “nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him.”—Psalm 103:10, 13.
How pleasant it is when family and friends, while granting us a measure of privacy, also demonstrate loving concern for us! Surely, to enjoy privacy in a balanced way is desirable.
Under the Kingdom that God promises, with Jesus Christ as King, all people will care about one another. (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:4) At the same time, however, people will recognize the need of others to be alone on occasion to study, to meditate, and to pray. What the prophet Micah foretold will then be realized to its fullest extent: “They will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble; for the very mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken it.”—Micah 4:4.
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‘Let none of you suffer as a busybody in other people’s matters’
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The time for enjoying privacy in a balanced way is near at hand