Every June students across the country pack their bags and head home while abandoned campuses turn quiet and subdued, waiting for autumn to arrive. Sometimes I feel sad about this because it’s just one more marker of how quickly time goes by. But not this year. This year June could not come fast enough.
“Brad is graduating,” I said to my friend Sally the other day. “You must feel relieved.”
She didn’t even smile. “If you’re saying that then you must not have heard.”
“He’s been telling people that I hit on him and that I tried to plagiarize the paper we were working on. I thought everyone had heard by now.”
We were in her office and she was packing boxes. I had assumed she was packing for the summer, but suddenly I had doubts.
“Well… I hadn’t. And if I hadn’t…”
She cut me off with a terse voice. “If nobody has said anything to you it’s because they know you’re my friend. But it’s only a matter of time before everyone hears about it and my reputation will be ruined.”
She started pulling books from shelves and stacking them haphazardly into a crate.
“Sally, don’t say that. This is not the time to be impulsive. You can’t throw away a good career over something so small.”
She shook her head while avoiding my eyes. “It’s over, Lucy. For so many reasons, it’s just over.”
The air thickened as I struggled to swallow my rage. “I’ll be back,” I said as I rushed out the door.
I knew just where to find him; he almost always sat in the poli-sci lounge during lunch. And sure enough, he was there, eating a sandwich in one of the comfier chairs. I walked toward him with purpose and an accusatory finger pointed at his chest.
“You,” I said. “I need to talk to you.”
He stood, towering over me. “If this is about Sally, save your breath. I was doing the right thing and I was telling the truth.”
“Why did you have to say anything at all? All you did was ruin a good person’s reputation!”
“If she’s that good then her reputation shouldn’t be in jeopardy!”
I’d never wanted to hammer someone in the head more. “We’re done!” I said. “That paper we submitted? Forget about it! I’m withdrawing it from consideration.”
“Good. I don’t want to work you either.”
Then he sat back down and resumed eating his sandwich, eyeing me with arrogance while he chewed.
“You can’t fix this,” Monty said to me later, after I told him the story at dinner.
“I feel like I should try.”
“Try all you want, but Sally’s right. Once things like this get out it’s over, especially if there’s some truth to it.”
I knew he was only being realistic, but I hated to hear it nonetheless. “Are you done?” I asked, grabbing his plate and clearing it before he could answer. In the kitchen, I rinsed dishes while I fumed.
It’s funny how one guy can come along and betray the systems we’ve spent years building in one hasty confession. Nothing that involves people and information can work without trust and one person should not have the power to abandon that trust.
Why not, you may ask. What if he had good intentions? What if he was telling us something we needed to know? What if what he’s saying is true?
Well, who gave him the power to decide what is right for everyone else? He gave himself this power, and that’s only the beginning of the problem.
Twenty-nine year old guys with limited education and extremist views (especially when it comes to civil liberties) might see themselves as saviors, but if they don’t reflect first and act second, who knows what sort of damage might be done to the greater good. And once one bit of truth leaks out, there is no controlling the lies that may be generated surrounding it.
So for example, Edward Snowden blows the whistle, and suddenly people believe the government is reading our emails and forcing Facebook to share private information. How many people are aware that Congress was briefed about the Prism program over a dozen times? Do they realize that all the information that was turned over was done so by a court order? Have they read that only 3% of the information garnered is from U.S. citizens, and that the rest is mostly from Pakistan and Iran? Most importantly, have they considered not just the attacks this information has prevented, but also the damage that this new leak has caused?
Before Edward Snowden told his secrets he had promised to respect the confidentiality of the information with which he was entrusted. And the harm of his betrayal extends far and wide. It reached his coworkers, many of whom were his friends. Now they will always be part of the story; their motives will always come into question. Other people, not yet involved, will be less likely to be trusted because of what he did.
And then there's the government. In this day and age the government is often painted as the enemy, but it's possible there are a lot of good people at the National Security Agency whose sole intentions are to protect the safety of U.S. citizens. Snowden's intentions may have been good as well, but who is more dangerous?
And because of him we will all be looking over our shoulders, afraid to take a chance, scared to get caught for doing nothing wrong. And the people who don’t follow the rules will have a better understanding of how to break them.
Edward Snowden was self-indulgent and self-guided by his own preferences. Yes, he faced a moral dilemma and he came to a point where he had to decide what to do. In the end, he came to the conclusion that the secret he was hiding was more precarious than the disloyalty he would cause by telling it.
But at what cost? When does the truth become more important than the loved ones we are trying to protect?
Next month, watch for a special installment, with the short story Blue State. The first part will be posted here, and the rest will be available for download on Amazon and Smashwords for only 99 cents.
Lucy’s life finally seemed on track. Happily married to Monty and teaching college in Seattle, she’s been raising her children in one of the bluest states in the country. But then her father has a stroke while Monty is on a month-long work trip to Botswana, and Lucy must travel home to Iowa in order to keep her family together. While there she comes to question her priorities and she must decide which is more important – the life she has made for herself, or the life she left behind.
Blue State is a short(ish) story about the politics of home, marriage, and growing older. It was written for fans of November Surprises blog (www.NovemberSurprises.blogspot.com), November Surprise the novel, and the novella Campaign Promises. As a special bonus the first two chapters of The Hold Out are previewed in the back, which continues the saga of the Bricker family, this time with Jack and Monty’s younger cousin, Robin.