May 30, 2010

14 Pontificating a word, its meaning and impact

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?


  1. Hello Greetings and good wishes:)

    There is enormous truth in this post.

    If there is a secret it is better to keep it within oneself. If it is shared even in confidence there is no guarantee that it will be kept a secret.

    In my own working experience, many times tbe boss has come to know what is said about him by an employee because others who want to curry favour or get into his good books come and tell him what others are talking about him. Many people ruined their career and promotions because of their loose tongue.

    I have seen people talking loudly about office politics in hotels,lifts etc. when there are outsiders listening to them. This is a very dangerous thing to do.

    Very interesting and useful post for all.

    Best wishes:)

  2. nice post,.. keep blogging

  3. I agree whole-heartedly. Your point is very well made. Keeping someone's/organization's confidence has real consequences and should, therefore, have thorough training that appropriately outlines the legal ramifications. Confidentiality is an experience that may loose its context among people with superior social abilities who view story telling as a way for connecting with others. As a course, confidentiality will be widely understood as a means of protecting privacy while demonstrating the significance of being respectful.


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  5. Thanks for this thought provoking piece.

  6. wow, love all the sea creature,... happy blogging...

  7. I liked the post.
    Breach of trust occurs only when someone has confided under promise of secrecy.
    Where something is public knowledge,to speak about it in public giving names,places etc may not be breaching confidence but an act of foolishness.

    The rule generally is

    Satyam brooyat priyam brooyaat na brooyaat satyam apriyam
    Priyam cha naanrutam brooyat esha dharma sanaatanah

    It is an age old dharma which says that one should speak the truth. One's speech should be pleasing to others. One should avoid speaking about some thing which is true but which is likely to displease or hurt others. Also, one should not utter lies just to please some one.

    Rhapsody, it is a brilliant post by you.It set me thinking of several situations

  8. I don’t think anything told to another person can be held as confidential. People are not built to keep secrets very well. Everyone having a secret is better off keeping it to themselves.

  9. I was surprise to people’s in the train for their confidenrial talks….it normally going to quite place to talks about their problems?your G-mother was wise lady…she has been a long time for her experience that why in Japan we must listen to an old peopleadvise:-) it most of time I do take noticed that in mylife.Anyway you have had a good entertain from themlol!

  10. There is not a lot of privacy left. I think you do have to really think long and hard before you take someone in your confidence. You just never know if this will come back to haunt you some day.

  11. I think the definition of confidential needs to be re-adjusted. It seems as though nobody respects the true meaning of the word anymore. This reminds of the time I was "bad talking" the man in the taxi back home that I thought looked like a wolf, and going into all sorts of descriptions about him, not knowing that it was his son I was talking too – LOL!! My grandmother also give me those that same advise – but I think we are all guilty of not using this good advise, sometimes for good and bad.Have a great week!

  12. I like the consideration of personal cost, when possible.Your Grandmother’s idea is good, although in the case of supervising employees it can be difficult or impossible to uphold to the letter. I think we must treat everyone with respect even if we don’t have that for them, considering that helps keep confidence I think. Another very thoughtful pontification Ms Fab, yes I am well thank you. If everyone were even half as thoughtful as you there would be far less broken confidences in the world.Hugs from sunny Alaska

  13. Your grandmother was a very wise woman!

  14. Another word to pontificate upon in context with this one: covenant.


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