In an ideal world, there would be no secrets and total honesty and transparency would prevail. This would eliminate the pain associated with misunderstandings and it would be the most ‘efficient operating model’, in that facts to inform choices are not hidden. However, for total openness to be safe for all concerned there is an assumption that everybody has the same high levels of self awareness, integrity and personal security. In reality we are all at different stages on this journey. So while we should strive to be as open as possible, discretion and judgement are necessary.
This judgement call is something that we face every day. On the one hand we don’t want to cause mayhem for ourselves and others because of our ‘lack of discretion’, while on the other hand saying it exactly as it is may be just what the situation needs. In making this call consider the following :
1. Privacy v Secrecy. There is a difference between secrecy and privacy. We are all entitled to our privacy and have the right to choose what we say to whom, and when.
2. Timing. Choose the time and circumstances in which to make a sensitive disclosure.
3. Impact of disclosure. Be sensitive to the feelings of others.Will disclosure make the situation better or worse ?
4. Confidentiality. If you we were told something in confidence generally (there may be exceptions) respect this confidence. Not to do so would be a breach of trust and will damage your relationships.
5. Avoid gossip and don’t listen to it.
6. Be courageous. If something needs to be said to clear the air, or some uncomfortable fact needs to be disclosed, say it. However, if you are tempted to be a ‘whistle blower’ you need to weight up the consequences for yourself and others versus the common good.
7.‘ The truth will set you free’. It can be very liberating for us to ‘out’ a long held secret, which can become an increasing burden with the passage of time.
8. Truth at all costs? There will be times when non disclosure or ‘white lies’ may be the lesser of two evils e.g. to protect the vulnerable. This, of course, can be over used as a rationalization for lying, or a cover up.
9. Secrets to exclude others. Beware of any tendency to use secrets as a means of excluding others from some exclusive club, where only the inner circle have full knowledge of what is going on.
10. Secrets and scandal. All major scandals in personal, business and public life have involved secrets of some kind. So a perceived need for secrecy should strike a warning cord.
If taken together the above pointers seem contradictory this is because the best course to take in any given situation will depend on the circumstances. If in doubt question your intent – is your motivation for keeping something secret in a given situation in accordance with your highest values?
There is some truth in the saying that ‘we are as sick as our secrets’. Openness and transparency is the desired state so we should be constantly challenging of the need for secrecy.