The word confidentiality is heard a lot, its use (verbal & written) is proliferated in every level of life, work, government, church, relationships, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Confidentiality meaning to keep private, to have someone’s trust and confidence i.e. to keep a secret or secrets is expressed in many ways depending on the environment. The workplace, doctors office, parts of government etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, have a more definitive terminology outlining a precise code of behavior however it stills boils down to be the same thing ‘Secrecy’. Which begs the question or should I say questions….
- Can you keep a secret?
- How good of a secret keeper are you?
- Are you cognoscente of when you are disclosing information entrusted to you in confidence?
- Before you give your consent to be a secret keeper do you consider the impact such an act will have on you?
- When you agree to keep someone’s confidence are you mindful of the consequences to YOU the secret keeper?
At this point you probably wondering where I am going with my analysis on confidentiality in truth I am not quite sure except that I need to share it and get your feedback because I had a recent experience that have me really thinking and examining what it means to keep someone’s confidence and confidentiality on a whole. I was on the train one morning on my way to work when I overheard a conversation that gave me pause and caused me to wonder whether or not there is any “real” confidentiality or is it just a farce. It is amazing what some people will divulge when they assume no one in their surroundings knows them and how they are somehow comforted by that notion enough to start blabbering about things they have no business discussing in the public setting. Though I am no stranger to hearing things I would rather not on my commute to and from work it is fast becoming the norm and private conversations though hardly private in a public setting is taking place every day and this day was no exception.
Seated directly across and to the left of me were a man and woman of African descent they look to be in their early to mid 50’s. Based on the conversation they were not a couple but knew each other for sometime as they were catching up with each other’s lives when the conversation turned to the woman’s living situation. She apparently lives in a COOP (member controlled housing. Members (residents) are responsible for running the co-op where annually they each vote in a Board of Directors from the membership) apparently this woman is on the Board of Directors and she proceeded to fill in the gentleman on all the happenings in the COOP and even got so detailed that she mentioned the name, unit number and information of one particular problematic resident. She went on to discuss prior managers, current managers and prospective managers using their names. I sat there horrified and tempted to say ‘shut up!’. The train was packed to capacity and she went on and on. The cherry on the cake of her duplicity is when she said to the gentleman "don’t tell anyone, all this is confidential" and I thought really? And wondered, is anything really ever confidential? In that moment I understood certain rules that was pound into me by my grandmother.
My grandmother always thought me; never say things about people behind their backs that you cannot say to their faces. When you are in public be mindful of what you say, to whom you say it, and in what context because you never know who is listening, and don’t feel nobody knows you because there is always someone who does. That latter is very true because I have had it happen to me on more than one occasion where I was approached by someone I didn’t know but knew me. The most recent was a board member from my organization who walked up to me, addressed me questioningly by name to affirm she got it right and introduced herself, now just imagine if I had sat there talking smack about my job….!
There are so many easy ways on can unknowingly betray confidences, one good example is when one uses someone’s story (who confided in them) without their consent as an example to make a point. The other is this woman on the train, I am sure she thinks she did not betray this tenant and would defend herself vehemently but the fact is she did break the confidentiality of the COOP/tenant by discussing the issues of the tenant outside the context of the board of directors and the other members of the COOP in a meeting relevant to the issues.
This experience has made me more mindful of my actions, intentions, words, meaning and deeds as it pertains to the issues of confidentiality (Secrecy) both professionally, soically and privately. It has also taught me to consider the emotional, physical, psychological, social impact as well as other implications to the self. Sounds complicated? Not really the truth is one should ask their self each time they am approached to keep a confidence, do I want to be cooped into keeping someone’s secret and what would doing so cost me.
What do you think?