I’ve enjoyed watching police dramas since childhood. Some of my favorites from the distant past include Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, 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?
- Blue Bloods, season 10, episode 6, “Glass Houses,” directed by Heather Cappiello, written by Kevin Wade and Allie Solomon, CBS, aired November 1, 2019.
- Gerald Martin, Gabriel García Márquez: A Life (New York: Vintage, 2010), 198.