During this season of sharing, let us be mindful of one affair we shouldn’t share: confidences.
Our friends and family who confide in us deserve our discretion. Indeed, the very definition of integrity is to be true to your word. And if you’ve given someone your word that you’ll keep personal information to yourself, that should be ironclad.
Too often in the two workplaces where I spend the most time—camps and independent schools—I hear “in this place, there are no secrets.”
Staff and faculty, as well as campers and students, describe an informal but indiscrete culture where replying “yes” to the query “Can you keep this to yourself?” is actually code for “I’ll be sure to ask the other people I tell to keep this stuff to themselves as well.”
Some people blame social networking for turbocharging the gossip engine. Actually, millenials tell me that sharing secrets on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumbler is the exception, not the rule. Most personal information is shared the old-fashioned way: in face-to-face conversations.
Such conversations usually begin with, “__________ would kill me if he/she knew I was telling you this.”
We’re all better than that, when we try. It’s human nature to be socially curious and it’s socially reinforcing to have someone respond to a juice tidbit with a whispered “No…way!” and a bashful smile.
To be better, we must fight our instinct to probe and proffer. Instead, we have to invest in the long-term benefits of cultivating a reputation as a trusted confidant. When our friends and colleagues know that we keep our word, the relationships deepen manifold.
As keeper of a confidence, our integrity hinges on what Canadian-American naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton phrased thus: “Word of honor is sacred.”
When a friend or colleague asks you, “Can I tell you something confidentially?” think carefully about whether your response is valid or vapid. And if when a friend or colleague introduces someone else’s confidential disclosure with, “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” politely reply with, “Then I guess you shouldn’t.”
So in this season of sharing our houses, our hearts, our hearths, and our happiness with others, let us all remember that someone else’s deepest, darkest secrets deserve a safe space in our soul.