Tracy Winchell

Maintaining Confidentiality is an Act of Kindness

published3 months ago
2 min read

Hey Reader,

You secretly binge-watch classic TV sitcoms, don’t you?

One of my favorites is Frasier — one of the best farcical comedies ever! A character lets something slip out of their mouth at the wrong time, and hilarity ensues.

Have you ever been in a pickle because someone opened their mouth when they shouldn’t have?

If so, it’s not funny at all when someone breaks your confidentiality.

In my days as a reporter, then a senior staffer at a local municipality, information is gold.

When I need information about Person x, I must reciprocate.

In the weeks after elected officials gave me the heave—ho and several other senior staffers, my greatest concern was, “What will people say?”

Trading information becomes gossip when you’re the target.

What is confidentiality?

In 12-step communities, confidentiality is a “basic requirement.”

Break someone’s confidentiality, and you’re out of the group — no questions, excuses, no mulligans.

In more public circles, confidentiality is an ethicalexpectation that requires one Person to keep to yourself someone else’s conversation with you.

If confidentiality is an expectation, how can it be kindness?

I was holding someone’s confidentiality results in kindness.

1. Confidentiality lets someone feel safe talking to you about anything.

There is no more extraordinary gift of kindness than being a safe listener.

2. Keeping someone’s trust maintains dignity.

This is true for you and the other Person.

When you refrain from sharing information outside the boundaries of a relationship, others notice and see you as trustworthy.

3. Impact.

Sharing a personal story directly will inspire someone who needs hope:

“This Person struggled with my struggle. They found a way. So can I.”

When you tell Stinky’s story to Gus, it’s only a story to Gus. When they hear it straight from Stinky, they hear opportunity.

I’m sure you can think of additional outcomes related to kindness.

I’d love you to reply to this email and share your list with me!

Preventing holiday dramas

The holidays offer families an opportunity to “catch up.” It’s easy to let things slip when you’re only around your extended family once or twice a year.

There’s—figuratively—nothing worse than ruining a young couple’s engagement plans, amiright?

If you break the confidentiality of a loved one, you may:

  • Destroy the relationship of trust.
  • Hurt the Person you are trying to help.
  • Cause the Person to feel humiliated or exposed.

These situations are particularly painful when you only want the best for your loved one.

Don’t spill the beans.

Chances are, you don’t even know you’re inadvertently breaking someone’s confidentiality, so let’s make a list and check it twice.

Grocery store spontaneous old-home weeks are delightful — until everyone as far as the butcher counter can hear about Mamaw’s cataract surgery.

Note: Not poking fun at Mamaws or cataract surgery. My grandmother was Mamaw, and I’m having cataract surgery soon.

Off-limits activities

  1. Talking about someone in public about their health, marital status, cataract surgery, or anything else of a personal nature.
  2. Sharing information with someone who does not need to know.
  3. Posting about someone on social media — unless you have explicit permission.
  4. Posting photos of a child not your own. Ask for permission first (this means you, too, dear grandmother).
  5. Putting someone on a church prayer list without permission.

If you cringed at #5, I feel you. That one hurt. You’re doing everything possible to help bring healing to your loved one. Please, ask first.

Confidentiality takes practice

Unless you’re some behavioral savant, you will occasionally let something slip — especially if this practice is new to you.

I won’t be surprised if I open my mouth too wide during our Thanksgiving meal.

Informing your closest family members of your decision to keep confidentialities is the most effective way of breaking the habit. Ask them to signal quietly if you’re about to run off the rails.

From my family to yours, may your holiday bring joy, comfort, and kindness.