Does Everyone Have Three Lives?

I’ve enjoyed watching police dramas since childhood. Some of my favorites from the distant past include Streets of San FranciscoKojak, and Starsky and Hutch. Currently, my favorite television program is CBS’s Blue Bloods. It stars Tom Selleck as New York City police commissioner Frank Reagan.

A wise patriarch, Reagan often dispenses provocative quotes at the family dinner table,1 including this line from Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014): “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.”2

As a philosophy instructor, I like quotes that make me think about the most important questions of life and I’m especially interested in discovering possible insights concerning the enigma of human nature. This quote struck me and caused me to want to reflect about its meaning. So, I tracked down the quote to its source and researched its potential meaning.

Some have interpreted Márquez’s quote to reflect the following, but various sources on the Web show that not everyone agrees.

1. A Public Life: This is the side of themselves that people present at work, church, civic arenas, and other public contexts. This is how people are generally seen in their daily life outside the home.

2. A Private Life: This is the side of life that people share with family and close friends. Only a person’s inner circle, so to speak, gets to see this “version.”

3. A Secret Life: This is the side of life known only to an individual. In can include one’s private thoughts and secret actions. People may be aware of their secret life, but that is not always the case. The reality of the secret life may be unknown even to the individual person himself for all of us have blind spots that stand in the way of true self-realization.

A Few Reflections

In light of this interpretation, I offer a few reflections. As I see it, Márquez’s quote has interesting psychological, philosophical, and theological implications.

Psychological: It seems common for people to compartmentalize their lives. But the sharper the divide between the compartments usually the greater chance of a deep cognitive dissonance (an inconsistency of beliefs and actions). In this case one wonders where, or if, true self-realization (growth or fulfillment) can be achieved.

Philosophical: All people at one time or another wonder about the deep questions of life. Moreover, every person has deep inner longings, yet it seems these existential yearnings are seldom revealed publicly or even privately. This disconnect could reflect an inner existential estrangement (self alienation).

Theological: Original sin has caused a powerful disorder in human beings with regard to God, to others, and to or within one’s self. There is a brokenness and fragmentation within the self. Sharp compartmentalization often works against a unified inner moral integrity. And, from a Christian worldview perspective, nothing is truly secret before God. This reality can be good news for the existentially lonely, but quite foreboding for those who seek to hide their immoral secrets.

I think Márquez’s quote is insightful and engaging. It has made me reflect about the compartmentalization in my own life. It has also caused me to consider what goes on in the inner lives of other people who may be suffering and to have empathy for them.

I like to watch television shows that make me think deeply about life. Tom Selleck’s character of Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods with his provocative quotes often provides ample inspiration for such reflecting.

Reflections: Your Turn

Do you agree that everyone has three lives? Are there television programs that you watch that make you think?

Endnotes

  1. Blue Bloods, season 10, episode 6, “Glass Houses,” directed by Heather Cappiello, written by Kevin Wade and Allie Solomon, CBS, aired November 1, 2019.
  2. Gerald Martin, Gabriel García Márquez: A Life (New York: Vintage, 2010), 198.

  One thought on “Does Everyone Have Three Lives?

  1. April 28, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, I agree that everyone has three lives. I do like the show Blue Bloods, and while I do not remember the quote, as a pastor, I have found that a lot of my preaching is to help people align each part of their life with Jesus Christ. Jesus called the Pharisees, hypocrites, which in his time the Greek word hypokrites meant an actor/stage performer. We lose so much in not exploring God’s word, so much of the ministry of Jesus, including the Sermon on the Mount was dealing with the inner man. the part that only God can see.
    Including Blue Bloods, one of my favorite shows that is not on anymore is Person of Interest

    • April 28, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks, Fernando.

      Ken Samples

  2. Nancy Stevenson
    May 12, 2020 at 9:33 am

    By Jesus’ time the Greeks and later the Gnostics had developed mind-body duality, that the mind/soul are separate from the body, that we do have this inner and outer life, and an inner life of thoughts and motivations that we can hide from people. Like you said it creates a dissonance. We can learn to serve many masters, walk many paths, have many facets and be complex. Some might say it is a coping mechanism for learning and socialization. It creates issues of accountability, even sociopathy. Jesus called it hypocrisy. Those who pray in public and curse in private etc. The more famous example being “if you lust for a woman in your heart….” He seems to see the psyche in a more monolithic view. Heart and mind the same. “Pluck out the eye, cut off the part that offends you.” He seems to suggest ,in my reading, that in being “compartmentalized” we may spread out our motivations and our hypocrisy and our guilt/accountability but that we lose our true selves. What do you think?

    • May 12, 2020 at 8:55 pm

      Hello, Nancy.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Sin bears a heavy toll on people and the more we ignore or rebel against God the deeper the depravity goes. Compartmentalization usually leads to a deep dissonance and stark hypocrisy.

      I think sin may weigh most heavily upon a person’s psyche because it is part of the inner self or soul.

      Yet I’m grateful that salvation is a gift and that God is so deeply merciful in Christ.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  3. Nancy Stevenson
    May 12, 2020 at 9:43 am

    The show that often made me think and inspire dinner table discussion was Star Trek.

    • May 12, 2020 at 8:55 pm

      Nancy:

      I’m a big fan of the original Star Trek series.

      Ken Samples

  4. Carol Snow
    May 12, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    I had to smile while reading your article, Ken, because I’d just read the article by Hugh Ross. He mentioned that clothing stores are selling more tops than bottoms because workers are only seeing co-workers from the waist up. Thus they are “public life” from the waist up and “private life” (maybe even “private life”) from the waist down.

    I’ve never cared much for police stories. I like cozy mysteries–Agatha Christie. One of her characters, Miss Marple is fond of solving crimes by comparing the actions and motivations of someone in London, for example, to someone in her village–as if her village is a microcosm of the world at large. Sometimes I’ve found this to be true and look for similarities between people I’ve known in the past to those I come across in the present. One odd thing about these “similar” people is that they even tend to look alike.

    • May 12, 2020 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Carol.

      Ken Samples

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