There are so many way to address this week’s Dungeon Prompt about secrets. I could talk from a therapy perspective about secrets in the family of origin. I could talk about confidentiality between therapist and client. I could talk about gossip. What I decided to write comes from my own personal life and learning.
Confidentiality in my role as therapist is clear. My job is to listen to my clients and keep their information confidential. It is black and white. There are only a few situations where it would be appropriate and/or necessary to breach confidentiality.
There are many times in my personal life when I ask for confidentiality, or when I am asked by others to keep something confidential. I honor those confidences but the rules about communication in personal life aren’t as black and white as in a therapy setting.
For most of my adult life I have been in leadership roles. The settings have varied, e.g. academia, organizations, therapy communities, spiritual communities. Because I’ve been a leader and because I am a good and safe listener many people talk to me. I have really liked being “in the know.” By doing a lot of listening, I can keep current and know what is going on all around me. I’m sure I have garnered some sense of being important and special by keeping myself in that position.
Being in the know can also cause problems. I end up with a lot of information that I may or may not want to know. If I’ve promised confidentiality then in most cases I am stuck with it. Sometimes I end up feeling either weighed down or pulled from all directions.
In the last few years, I have decreased my over-involvement in almost every aspect of my life. I decided I don’t have to know everything. I’m finding there is a lot of relief in being able to say, “Sorry, I’m not part of that loop anymore.”
That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to hear confidences, or talk with and/or support my friends or other members of my various communities. Of course I am. But I can be more discriminating. I can also pay more attention to my own communication and to the types of problems I want to be involved with.
There is a quote that is often attributed to Buddha that says: “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” Bodhipaksa researched that quote and discovered it actually came from a Victorian poem “Miscellaneous Poems,” by Mary Ann Pietzker, published in 1872. He said the Buddhist canons actually contain 5 criteria. The questions monks are meant to ask themselves before they speak are: “Do I speak at the right time, or not? Do I speak of facts, or not? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak profitable words or not? Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious?” (From The Patimokkha, Ñanamoli Thera, trans.)
I think deciding when and what to say, and when or what to listen to, will be a lifelong journey. Sometimes I overshare and then am sorry that I said something. Sometimes I regret the way I said something. If I slow down and pay attention to what I say and when I say it, then I am likely to stay in integrity with myself and others. I will also be more likely to feel good about the personal secrets I share, as well as the ones I listen to. It is okay for me to take my time so that I make decisions that will be in accordance with my beliefs and values.