Secret vote and private emotions

          The hot topic of August: primary election, of course. I mean, the result of it. The final count of the votes surprised even the ruling party itself, whose expectations were only getting 40% to consolidate towards the major election in October. The point is, before Sunday 14th, although you could still hear conflicting opinions, many comments in bars, offices, gyms and meetings with friends spun around <<I wouldn’t ever vote Cristina>>.

What happened then? The purpose here is neither to take sides about the result, nor to promote or criticize anybody. What is interesting about this situation is that once again we find a cliché that rings the bell to all of us. I’m talking about the one which goes <<I didn’t vote him (HER)>>. This deserves our attention.

The phenomenon <<I-didn’t-vote-him>> is by no means a deviation of the Argentinean psyche, for those at first tempted to reach that conclusion. In fact, it is a rather common response throughout contemporary democratic societies. We can cast an eye, for instance, on the wristbands, which claim to exonerate the wearer from the supposed ‘blame’ of having contributed to take Zapatero to the Spanish government.

I would like to venture an explanation resourcing to the <<Johari Window>>, which I used precisely a few days ago in a seminar, and to its <<Secret>> quadrant. Conceived in the ’50s by the Americans Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, it matches what we perceive and know of ourselves with what the others see of us.

The best case is that in which we and the others both share the same opinion about ourselves: no dark areas. We can link confidently –or simply decide not to do so- because we are clear on each part’s attributes. But, what happens in the <<Secret>> zone? It is there where we are aware of personal features that others ignore … and in fact we try it to be so. That’s the environment of our private life, contributing to our individuality, which we safeguard in order not to feel vulnerable.

The most apish and funny example comes naturally: we don’t want anybody to see what we do sitting in the toilet or when singing in the shower. But the most colorful things appear when we explore our emotional lives. As Carlos Castilla del Pino -Spanish neurologist and writer- said, since we are kids we learn that we are not judged by our inward emotional life, but only by what release outwards –whether intentionally or not. “The child is not allowed to feel hatred towards her parents, but sometimes she does”, emphasized del Pino. Thus, in a vast number of cases, we learned to restrain our anger.

Not very different from when we are already grownups. In the process of becoming sociable, we safeguard beliefs and thoughts and we limit them to the inside. Religious or political issues are frequently matters of controversy, of loss of reputation within a group, or even of the end of valuable relationships. That’s why, in a society that brings opinions such as <<how could you vote for her!>> into fashion and then spreads them in domino effect, people normally choose to separate private emotional life from socialization. People avoid feeling embarrassed when not defending the fashionable concept (or that which belongs to the majority).

Of course, many will be of the opinion that one thing is to keep your mouth shut and another very different one is to say exactly the opposite of what you do. The dilemma, then, moves towards: Is it necessary for those who voted a certain candidate to claim “they would never ever do it” or “never in fact did”? (They are even less identifiable that way!) That’s a nice land of controversy! However, if we are still unsatisfied with the previous explanation, there is another reason for such an apparently inconsistent behavior: meta-emotions.

A “meta-emotion” consists in the emotional reaction that comes up when we identify certain emotions in ourselves. For instance, we could become sad to detect we have been getting angry too often lately. Coming back to the matter of private electoral life, many could be embarrassed for feeling guilt … or could feel upset for having to hide their true voting intention behind functional hypocrisy. Relief is at last achieved in the voting room, inside the suitable Johari area, where they are able to release their true preferences at will.

So, we must finally retrieve something positive from the controversy: democracy finds in the <<secret vote>> a good defense mechanism against the threats of public opinion. To summarize, secret vote is the instant when no fear to harm our reputation, no dread of being rejected, influences the genuine will of us citizens.




  • Castilla del Pino, Carlos (2000), Teoría de los Sentimientos; Tusquets, Barcelona, 2008.
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