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the better part of valor
a modern-day morality fable
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

Once upon a time, there was a man who had a problem he didn't know about.

Most of the people he talked to didn't know about it, either. His friends, his family, his coworkers had no idea. Looking back, had they known, maybe things would have been different. Maybe people wouldn't have been hurt. Maybe ties wouldn't have been severed. Maybe there would have been no poison apples, no houses blown down, and no grandmas eaten by wolves. Maybe David Lee Roth would still be with Van Halen.

His problem was this: he told secrets.

People would take him into their confidence, he would intend to keep his promise not to tell anyone, and yet, at the drop of a hat, he would set aside discretion and share with others those things he had sworn to keep secret. "Of course," he would tell himself, "I can trust so-and-so not to say anything." And sometimes he was right. And sometimes he was wrong. And sometimes, it would blow up in his face.

"Did you tell anyone?" he would be asked.

"No," he'd say, feeling guilty. "I guess you must have told someone else."

But this was all about to change.

One day, a woman with whom he was romantically involved discovered that he had been discussing her with her closest friends, behind her back. He only had her best interests at heart, but he knew he'd done wrong. Especially when she confronted him later that week.

"Don't talk to my friends about me," she said. "If I wanted them to know things, I'd tell them."

"Okay," he agreed, wondering what the big deal was. Weren't they her friends? Who else would know her better? Who'd put the pea under her mattresses?

"Besides," she added, "our lives are our business. My life is my business. Your life is your business. This porridge is just right. Why would I want my friends to think anything about me based on what you said? And I wouldn't want them thinking anything about you based on what I say."

And at that moment, something clicked.

"She's right," he thought. "I've been compromising other people's personalities. I've been invading their privacy. I've even been influencing how everyone sees them. In fact, I've been kind of a dick."

Had this been a movie, this is the point at which special effects would have created some sort of spiraling visual around his head to demonstrate that he had suffered what Minnie Driver's character in Grosse Pointe Blank called "Shakabuku" - "a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever." This isn't, unfortunately, a movie, so you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that's exactly what happened to our hero.

He was thrown. He started thinking back to all the times that he'd betrayed someone's confidence, even if it was just to someone else he trusted, all the personal details of lives other than his own that he shared with others, and of their personal secrets, which he probably had shared with that first group. "Sometimes," he mused, "one magic bean can grow into a heck of a beanstalk."

But to truly change, to truly stop burning his friends, he knew he'd have to delve deep to discover the genesis of his impulsive need to share people's secrets.

"Level one," he thought. "I'm a writer of personal columns."

That made sense to him. He was used to writing about his life, sharing his own secrets with the world. His life was an open book, and sometimes he forgot that other people actually valued their privacy. Yes, he was a bit of an attention whore (to coin a phrase), whereas most people probably wanted to keep their personal lives, well, personal. Or at least use them to make money on some reality TV show. (Given, he wasn't most people (or really any other people), but he figured he was probably right about that.)

What's more, he realized, when he shares his personal stuff and the story includes other people, that too infringes on their privacy. "Wow," he thought, "I have some people to apologize to. And I should really pop in a breath mint."

But the desire to share the clandestine details of his and other people's lives, even in print, he mused, is really still just a symptom of something deeper. Something more sinister. Something that, if it were to get out, might take over the world!!!! Well, maybe he was getting ahead of himself there.

Any way he looked at it, he had to recognize his inner gossip. Why did he keep screwing up relationships because he couldn't keep his mouth shut? Some people were addicted to alcohol, some were addicted to drama, and some to constantly magic mirrors questions in rhyme; he, apparently, just couldn't stop talking about other people.

And then, like a light bulb turning on in his head, but with less electricity and probably not as much of a burning sensation, he realized what it was. What drove him to do the things he did, say the things he said: "It's the need to be liked," he thought, appreciating the irony.

He wanted people to think he was "in the know." He wanted them to say to themselves, "Wow, this guy really has a lot of information." And, what's more, he didn't want to disappoint them by not sharing what he knew. He didn't want people to think, "That guy knows something about so-and-so, but he must not like me because he won't tell me what he knows. Therefore, I won't like him." Or "He's keeping secrets. He's a secret-keeper. How dare he? Doesn't he trust me? I don't like him." Yes, in his mind, this is how people spoke to each other.

So he'd finally hit on it. He was both saddened and elated. Well, at first elated, then saddened, then elated again. That actually went on for a while. But no matter which end of the emotional spectrum he found himself embracing, he knew one thing: he had to change his ways.

The thing was, he reasoned, people liked him anyway. He hoped, at least. And he was semi-confident in his ability to keep and make friends based on his personality and rugged good looks. "In fact," our hero thought, "I may strengthen my relationships across the board if I stop breaking people's confidence. Maybe they'll trust me. And be right in doing so."

So the man tried his best to keep his promise and his promises to others. He stopped being the gossip that he'd become, and started being a man of character, of honesty, and especially of discretion. Those times when he would have the occasional slip, and say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or fail to be chivalrous with the girl he liked, he would own up to it, apologize, and try to make it right. And because they knew it was inadvertent, and that he was trying his best to be the type of man he could respect, the people in his life forgave him, and they all lived happily ever after.

The End

I hope you all enjoyed that fable. As you might have guessed, our hero was based on someone in real life. You might even have a guess as to whom. I promised him I wouldn't tell you that secret, though, and that's a promise I intend to keep. Now shut up and go to sleep.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


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david damsker
5.10.04 @ 7:11a

So that's how everyone found out about my transgender surgery!

david damsker
5.10.04 @ 7:15a

And I'm glad DLR isn't with Van Halen anymore.

Sammy is much better.

dan gonzalez
5.10.04 @ 10:01a

How'd you mess up the Van Halen thing Kraemer?

That practically ruined my life, they started crooning love songs and shit. Thanks a bunch.

adam kraemer
5.10.04 @ 10:28a

Yeah, I know. Actually, the funny thing is if you look at the greatest hits CD, the only DLR song with "love" in the title is "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."

roger striffler
5.10.04 @ 11:19a

I think you can blame Valerie Bertinelli for the whole love thing.

dan gonzalez
5.10.04 @ 12:02p

True, but Adam may still have been involved. Perhaps he introduced them, or leaked secrets about Eddie's hidden sensitivity to her.

adam kraemer
5.10.04 @ 1:50p

I'm not saying a word.

mike julianelle
5.10.04 @ 2:14p

And I'm glad DLR isn't with Van Halen anymore.

Sammy is much better.

That might be the most absurd statement ever put forth on this site. Wow.

david damsker
5.10.04 @ 2:41p

Absurd? I would wager that I am more of a fanatic about this band than most anyone out there (except for many of the people on the VH message boards I frequent), and I believe that I am fully entitled to my opinion.

Eddie writes the music, not DLR. Have you seen DLR's solo material? Sammy may have had some cheesey stuff, sure, but at least he writes his own music.

DLR had some great, funny lyrics, but has little to no musical ability.

Sammy's voice is also so much more easy on the ear than DLR.

mike julianelle
5.10.04 @ 3:55p

Of course you're entitled to your opinion. But you're not new here, so you know the drill. Take your medicine.

Correct me if I'm wrong, one of the reasons for DLR leaving was the band's direction on 1984, what with synthesizers on "Jump" and stuff. Now, he was certainly wrong about "Jump", but if Van Hagar is any indication, he was right about not wanting to go where they went. Halen went from rock to adult 40. Simple as that. "Some cheesy stuff" is a big understatement.

dr. jay gross
5.10.04 @ 4:11p

........and the names have been changed to protect those whose reputations and souls may be forever lost [there are no innocents]....It's always good to keep secrets under lock and key, they may be very useful someday.

Never wear your heart on your sleeve. You might try the soap-opera route, though.

We'd all like to hear something really juicy every now and then Kraemer. Don't hold it all back!

adam kraemer
5.10.04 @ 5:05p

Well, I could tell some interesting stories about my mom's brother....

Actually, the best e-mail response I've gotten today, from a friend of mine in Philly: a cool thing to happen is when someone tells ONLY you something. but in time, you know this person will tell everyone.
then, getting credit for being the very first confidant is a well-deserved gloat. it is like, hey, look at me - i knew first. i'm trustworthy and important. : )
sometimes it requires skill to actually let everyone know you knew first, without being blatant. there are all types of hidden joys in keeping secrets.
: )


robert melos
5.10.04 @ 7:58p

I kept secrets and lived secrets. I will never again keep a secret or live one. I believe in full disclosure, and will accept nothing less from a partner. However, if I find out someone does keep stuff from me, not only do I lose some respect for them, I revert back to the old contemptuous me and take their mind through my version of wonderland. By the time I'm finished with them, they know exactly how it feels to be mentally screwed.

See, that's why I like myself more as an honest and open person, who attracts other honest and open people. Reverting to evil me is not pretty.

nils parker
5.10.04 @ 8:22p

Adam, you're being too hard on yourself. Look at it this way, if all these "secrets" were so secret and so personal why did the secret-bearer bear it in the first place? And don't tell me it's about trust or love. If this person didn't want anyone to know, they wouldn't have told ANYONE. People, secrets are never secret. They are merely shared within a feedback loop of varying size depending on your number of friends, how close you are to each other, and how many are salacious gossips.

robert melos
5.11.04 @ 2:19a

One last note here. The truth, or secret, always comes out in the end.

david damsker
5.11.04 @ 8:08a

No one will ever know for sure why DLR and VH broke up, but wanting to do his own solo career probably had a lot to do with it.

Van Hagar has plenty of solid rockers, and aren't all like "When It's Love", despite said song being a good one nonetheless.

But, sorry to hijack Adam's column. Adam knows why they broke up, but he's not at liberty to tell.

dan gonzalez
5.11.04 @ 9:25a

Despair.com has a notable demotivator which says "Dysfunction: The only consistent feature of all your unsatisfying relationships is you."

Because Sammy left as well, I'm thinking it has to do with the brothers.

adam kraemer
5.11.04 @ 12:55p

I don't know, Nils. I think that, especially in the case of a significant other, secrets are allowed to be shared without expecting that they'll be betrayed. And in my case, I was also sharing stuff about things that went on in the relationship between us that should have stayed between us. And I think that was the point.

juli mccarthy
5.11.04 @ 1:05p

I would wager that I am more of a fanatic about this band than most anyone out there (except for many of the people on the VH message boards I frequent), and I believe that I am fully entitled to my opinion.

I'll take that wager. I'm actually not a fan, but I'll bet I know more about VH than you do. My next-door neighbor has worked with them for years, and he IS a fan.

david damsker
5.11.04 @ 1:39p

Well, well....do you know why VH broke up then?

Is your neighbor a touring guy, a record guy, what?

juli mccarthy
5.11.04 @ 1:48p

Mostly I was just yanking your chain, David, but my neighbor is a friend of the band's. He owns a company that rents out charter jets, and VH were regular customers that became friends - if you see a guy with a missing knee at a VH concert, that's my neighbor.


adam kraemer
5.12.04 @ 10:10a

I find it amusing that my column generated more discussion of Van Halen than it generated discussion of itself.

sandra thompson
5.12.04 @ 10:50a

Many long years ago I had a counseling job where it was important to keep confidences, in fact, this stuff was "privileged and confidential" in the legal sense. So this old blabbermouth had to learn a new way of being. It wasn't all that difficult. This new skill spilled over into my personal life and now everybody tells me everything they don't want anybody else to know and I just bite my knuckles and go on about my like-an-open-book life as if I knew nothing at all about anybody else. Of course, everybody knows everything about me, more than they even perhaps wanted to know, in fact. It works for me even if it's hard on them/you. Sigh.

adam kraemer
5.12.04 @ 1:32p

Well, right now I'm in a situation where people are telling me things, and I know other things, and I can't/don't want to say anything with regard to anyone involved. It's been pretty good practice with my new philosophy. And I find that if I do need to talk some things out, I just go to people who aren't connected in any way to the situation, and therefore have no one to tell. It's working so far, but it's not easy.

tracey kelley
5.12.04 @ 10:43p

Secrets are fun, for a while, but when you've taken on the burden of others, and people are badgering you, it's a tough spot to be in.

That being said, I'd rather keep the secret.

rachel levine
5.18.04 @ 8:02p

DLR was the bettter part of VH.

I never read the Shaksp. play with the quote and so don't know its proper context. My father often says, "Discretion is the better part of valor" to mean "Don't take a needless risk to be a hero."

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