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PandoraBoxx's avatar

How far does privacy and journaling extend?

Asked by PandoraBoxx (17946 points ) October 11th, 2009

Let’s suppose a person is in the habit of keeping small journals or notebooks. While most of these notebooks are kept in personal space, one or two are often left laying out in common family space (living room coffee table, kitchen counter) for weeks at a time. A child of the journal keeper sees one of the journals, and finds an inscription in the front that dedicates the journal to the children of the journal writer. Does this dedication give the child permission to read the journal? Should the child ask permission first? Does the age of the child matter?

What if the spouse of the journal keeper opens the journal and sees the dedication? Would he/she have implied permission to read the journal? Does the expectation of privacy extend to notebooks, papers, etc. left in shared space?

Suppose the journal escapes being read, and at the time of the death of the journal writer, the spouse reads the journal dedicated to the children, and finds that while it starts out as a commentary on nature, it also contains explicit details about an extramarital affair the journal writer had while his children were young. Should the spouse destroy the diary or is he/she obligated to honor the dedication?

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9 Answers

Likeradar's avatar

I don’t know about the last part, but if a notebook of any sort is left in shared space for an extended period of time, I think the writer is implying that it’s for public consumption. People keep their journals under mattresses or in other private places for a reason- to ensure it’s kept private.

saraaaaaa's avatar

I think if they are aware of the fact that the book is someone’s journal then permission should always be asked, leaving it around the house might not be the best idea, but if anything it implies trust.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

I think that if you leave journals out in the open or if you dedicate it to someone it should be read and it’s up to the integrity of the person reading it to make his/her decision.

I’ll share a personal story. My mom once told me that when she was young she found her mother’s journal. My grandparents at the time was a heavy smoker and gambled a lot, often leaving my mom to take care of her siblings in their small cramped home. It was a very hard life and their income was very low. Well, when my mom opened the journal she found out that her mother was in fact very unhappy with her life and was considering suicide to just end it all.

And guess what my mom did? She wrote in my grandmother’s journal, pleading with her to not end her life and to stay with the family. If I remember correctly she also pleaded with her to stop gambling and smoking.

My memory’s hazy because my mom told me this a really long time ago, but if I can recollect the events accurately her mom wrote back in the diary promising that she wouldn’t commit suicide and would try to turn a new leaf.

My mom now has that journal extract photocopied and laminated in a folder for safekeeping.

I guess what this story has in relation to the question is that if you have a journal around the house with your kids inside it, that’s probably an invitation to read it, especially if you dedicate it to them.

I’ll think about the other situations you raised later but this is what I wanted to share because your question reminded me so much of my mom’s story.

scamp's avatar

I agree with the others. I think it you don’t want others to read it, you should keep it in a private place. That should remove anyone mistakenly thinking it is for anyone to read.

aphilotus's avatar

I don’t look in other people’s journals unless I specifically ask them and they agree. Even if the journal is out somewhere public.

I think that’s because someone read my journal when I was little, and it made me all upset. I don’t want to do that to someone else.

augustlan's avatar

I wouldn’t read it if I knew it was someone’s journal. That said, if I left my journal in public, I’d know I was leaving myself wide open to others reading it. The ‘after death’ part of your question is tricky. I guess though, if the children were adults, I’d probably pass the journal along to them after reading it myself (so I could prepare them for any unpleasant surprises). If they were still young I’d tuck it away for later.

wundayatta's avatar

I think it goes to why people write journals. I always wonder why you would write anything if you didn’t want to communicate to other people.

People who keep journals say they keep them for themselves—maybe so they can work through their own thoughts. Or maybe so they can look back later to see how far they’ve come. Some people actually do destroy their journals at some point during their lives. Others leave them for others to read after they have died.

I think that most of us are desperate to be known. I think we hope that our inner selves can be seen and, most importantly, accepted; perhaps even loved. I think most of us want the truth about ourselves to come out. However we tend to think that our inner selves are shameful for one reason or another, and so we don’t want the truth to come out until after we’ve died.

Part of it is that I think passing on truth about oneself is a gift to others. When we see that others aren’t perfect, then we can feel a little better about our own imperfections. If we can’t be accepted for our complete selves while we are alive, at least we can let others know what was really going on. This can help others—especially children—get a reality check. Lies during life can be straightened out. Children and others can find out they weren’t as crazy as they thought, when they suspected something happened, but everyone else denied it.

If I’m right, then when people leave their diaries out in plain sight, it is a subconscious, or possibly even a deliberate invitation for others that the diary writer wants to be known. @Saturated_Brain‘s grandmother was in desperate pain if she was thinking about suicide, and she wanted someone to know and care and love her. I think she left her journal around “accidentally on purpose.”

I think in the case of the person who is confessing an affair, again, they want to be known. They want their children to understand what happened, and why, so the kids can reinterpret what was going on at the time. The kids can have their worries and feeling validated by the truth.

Often, people write diaries for their children. I had a girlfriend who had given a baby up for adoption (before she became my girlfriend). She kept a diary deliberately for her daughter, in case her daughter should ever seek her out. Her daughter did seek her out, and was given the diary. I don’t know what her daughter thought about it, though. We had crazy lives back then, and it may have turned out to be too much information. Then again, her daughter was in her twenties by then; old enough to have some perspective.

I once had a relationship with someone who had a lot going on in her life. She had a sort of open relationship, so she had other lovers besides her husband. Later on, her daughter was also becoming interested in boys. There may have been some drama there; I’m not sure. I thought the mother should write down the stories so her children could see them later, after she had passed away. I thought the children might understand their own desires better if they knew what their mother was truly like. However, the mother didn’t see it that way, and thought there was nothing to be gained from telling her daughter about her whole life.

I write things down in many places; just not in a diary. I keep the most sensitive things in password protected files. My wife knows the password—if she remembers it. I hope that either my children or other people will eventually take an interest in my life, and want to go through my documents. I keep all my letters and many other documents. I think that if I ever decide to, I can reconstruct much of my life by researching the primary documents. Or my children can do it, if they are interested. I would be interested in finding out what my parents were really thinking about various events in my childhood if I could. I’d like to know if I’m really that different from them, or if it only seems that way because I don’t know what really went on.

On the other hand, my wife keeps a journal, and leaves it in the open, but I don’t read it. My daughter keeps one, but hers is private. I have never sought it out, because she is a good kid, and seems to have a level head. If she ever seemed like she was in trouble, I might decide it would be a good idea to read it, but for the moment, I respect her privacy.

I think there’s a balance between respect, need, and love involved in making this decision. It changes with every situation. Who knows how many diaries were never read that could have saved someone’s life. Who knows if any have been read but no one ever told anyone else?

I have been privy to a number of people’s secrets. I have not ever told others these secrets. I don’t plan to start, either. I respect the wishes of the person who confided in me. I think that people want to be known, but they want to be known safely. They know I can’t cast any first stones, so perhaps it is safe to tell me.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i suppose it depends on the person. generally, if something is a journal – or any notebook that isn’t mine – i assume it isn’t to be read, unless i ask.

this reminds me though: the other day, there was a notebook on the desk behind my friend, and she picked it up, opened to the front cover, and i guess she thought it looked like a personal journal. so she closes it and goes “oh, it’s someone’s diary. i’m not going to read it.” and when someone else went to pick it up later, she’s like “hey! don’t read that, it’s a diary!”. i thought it was cute. ahha.

Zen's avatar

You asked, Does this dedication give the child permission to read the journal? Should the child ask permission first? Does the age of the child matter?

And:

What if the spouse of the journal keeper opens the journal and sees the dedication? Would he/she have implied permission to read the journal? Does the expectation of privacy extend to notebooks, papers, etc. left in shared space?

1. Nope.
2. Yes.
3. Nope
4….
5. Really no (about the spouse having permission to read it.)
6. Yes.

Whew.

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