Sunday, November 14, 2010


The only way to truly keep a secret is to not tell anyone. Doesn’t matter who you tell, or how “besties” you think you are with your best friend. Once you’ve spilled the beans, the beans will eventually be shared, and it will be out of your control. Guaranteed.

The bigger the secret, the easier it is shared, as well. Maybe it is not easy to share, but it is hard to keep to yourself. You want to be the one known for knowing it. You want to be the first. You want to get something for it. When it is an earth-shattering, I-can’t-believe-it kind of secret, it will slip between the lips of whoever you’ve told quicker than you can say, “Hey, listen to this!” and then it will spread like wildfire from there.

That’s why I knew those Chilean miners were doomed. The worst part of their experience won’t have been the 69 days they spent half a mile underground. It is going to be the weeks and months after being returned to the world. Being swallowed by the earth will seem like good times compared to trying to keep their pact to stay united.

Like most people I was captivated by the initial reports out of Chile of the cave in and the subsequent plans for rescue. It was horrific to imagine being in their position, and the aggressive plans for retrieval were awe inspiring. Then the rescue was coming sooner than first imagined, and it went off like clockwork, and suddenly the 33 men were once again living under the blue sky and everyone wanted to hear their story.

The plan to work as a team was to be lauded. They could share in the proceeds of whatever might fall their way, and surely they were due whatever people were willing to pay. After such a story (longest buried alive, tight living quarters, mistresses vs. wives, etc.) they should be able to turn it into a few bucks. The more the merrier. Each penny being split 33 ways was a great plan.

Except it was never going to work. The human animal ain’t built that way.

There was no chance that someone wouldn’t go rogue. Too many agencies, too many publishers, too many offers would be coming from too many different directions. All they had to do was flash enough green and one of the miners would cave (ha!) and like a house of cards it would all implode.

Though these might not be technically secrets the miners are going to disseminate, it is a story that only they can tell. If they do it together, great! If it comes out piecemeal, it will only decrease in value. There are too many variables. There are too many miners.

Sometimes they are in the news as a cohesive group, attending a Chilean soccer match together or being nominated as Time Magazine’s persons of the year or being photographed in matching Oakley sunglasses (donated by the company and worth $180 each, the first payout other than the 48 hours of free medical care when they first surfaced).

Sometimes, though, we hear about dissention in the ranks. One guy was the strong leader type underground but another more gregarious fellow has become the face of the group aboveground because he is always willing to smile and talk. One miner recently ran the New York City Marathon, and unless he paid the entry fee and hotel costs himself, according to their pact his compatriots should have received something of equal value. The same guy was on the Letterman show and was offered a trip to Graceland because he is a big Elvis fan.

Do all the miners get to go to Graceland? Do they all want to? Would some rather visit the Colorado Territorial Museum, where they flaunt their history of 77 executions (45 by hanging, 32 by gas) and inmates such as Alfred Packer, the only man convicted of cannibalism in the U.S.?

I am beginning to sense a strain in the whole team concept. If they can stick together, the group, as a whole, will be better off. There will be colossal amounts of money from books, movies, videogames, interviews and other appearances. It’s not exactly a zero sum game, where anyone’s gain is offset by another’s loss. They could share equally in the bounty.

But the pot of money is in some ways limited, if not in dollar amount then at least in time. The story will be superseded eventually by a political scandal, weather catastrophe, or a surprising upset in sports. And if one miner goes out on his own in an attempt to benefit himself or his family, or because he thinks he is not getting his fair share, instead of hearing stories of triumph and courage we will be told of backstabbing and infighting.

There will be no way to tell if things were fair. Which makes sense, because this is life, ladies and gentlemen, and life isn’t fair. The miners might give it their best effort, but there is possibly too much working against them for everything to go smoothly. They just might have been doomed from the outset.

And I’m not talking about the cave-in.

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