By Shira Gould || Contributing Writer
This week’s Common Hour speaker was “the world’s most trusted stranger,” Frank Warren, creator of the Postsecret project. In 2004, Warren printed 3,000 self-addressed postcards and handed them out to people on the streets of Washington D.C. Since then, he has built a community based on anonymity and has raised over a billion dollars for suicide awareness. Warren connects people across the world through their shared secrets–pulling people out of isolation and into the comfort of company. This website has saved lives by showing people that no one is truly alone in their perceived isolation.
Warren discussed his struggles with mental illness and secret keeping. He was raised in a broken family. His parents were divorced and had severed all ties of communication. He alluded to being abused as a child, and as a teenager he became homeless after being kicked out of his house. He indicated that he did not share these struggles with anybody, including his wife, until months into the Postsecret project.
After weeks of posting secrets, Warren began noticing a pattern. People from all over the world, who spoke completely different languages, were submitting the same secrets. Warren jokes that the most popular secret that is shared with him is: “I pee in the shower.” After that, the most common secret seems to be: “I am waiting for somebody to share my secrets with—somebody who will understand.” According to Warren, that is everyone’s dream—to find someone who will understand. Warren is that someone to millions of people across the globe.
Warren was also able to find that someone for himself through his experiment. One day he received a postcard with a picture of a door with holes in it. On the postcard was a message that said the writer had grown up in an abusive household. She had never told anybody about her secret before she found Postsecret. It was only then that Warren realized that he shared the secret with this stranger, and he immediately collected courage to send a letter to his wife confessing it. He learned that there are two types of secrets: those one keeps from others, and those that one keeps from himself.
Warren spoke passionately about the effects secret telling can have on mental health. “30 people in this room will think of committing suicide in the next 12 months,” he said. “13 people are sitting next to someone who will try it.” The room was silent. Warren asserted that suicide is the most preventable cause of death in the world, and that even the smallest action from an unknowing person can make the difference between life and death.
Warren saved some time after his talk to allow audience members to confess their secrets or to ask questions. When asked the question: “Are you ever afraid that you will become desensitized to the secrets of others?,” Warren said that he had been through a lot in his life. He had suffered many hardships. Therefore, he is not afraid that he will become desensitized to it. Each of the secrets that are shared with him strike a personal chord. He said that he hopes to continue doing this job forever—he will always be an anonymous sympathizer.
First-year Shira Gould is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Emma Brown.