Late last year, early December, a client rang me and said that one of his high profile American clients – and friend – had died suddenly. He wanted advice on how to handle a ‘sensitive issue’.
By anyone’s estimation, and going by the media, he had a solid standing in the business world and an enviable reputation.
It turns out my client didn’t know his friend as well as he thought.
The impression was a happily married man. But it turns out he had lived apart from his wife for over seven years which was, obviously, a closely guarded secret.
And my client said, “Whenever I bumped into his sons or daughter and enquired about ‘dad’ the response was always cheery. So that was a huge surprise. I thought I was close.”
But it turns out he had an addiction to pornograghy.
Not only did he have a questionable ‘search history’ on his personal computer but he had quite an extensive archive ‘library’ of backed-up images and videos dating back over many years; and subscriptions to sexually explicit magazines sent to a false name.
The issue was: to contain or not contain? I have an opinion on what should be done but I am interested in yours.
As we have recently seen in the British press, public figures shouldn’t have alleged ‘secrets’.
In this case there was nothing questionable on any work computers; and nothing questionable found at any work place. This was an extremely private ‘hobby’.
My first thought – in this case – is to preserve the public personna. I cannot think of anything to be gained by sharing that information with the world at large. I do suspect that his family – his wife, at least – was aware of the issue. Discretion is the better part of valour.
My second thought is to delete and dispose of the offending materials … responsibly.
But my advice to anyone who has a secret life: if you wouldn’t want your family to know or want it publicised, then stop doing it. Do whatever you can to clean up your act, and, if you are struggling, get help. Help exists!
In most cases, the addiction will have some biological or clinical basis, that is treatable.
Importantly, this person behaved in a way that tempted guilt and public shame. But the only shame is not doing something about something that you know has the potential to adversely impact the people you care about.
In this case, it appears so far, it was a very private addiction. No one has come forward, to date, claiming abuse or harm. So right now we have the opportunity and ability to protect a reputation, and importantly, the feelings of his family. Independent professional advice, so far, concurs with that strategy.
The advice would be different, however, if we were talking about the harm or abuse of others.
(I want to emphasise I have changed a LOT of the details that might identify this well known identity and cause embarrassment. AP)