CONFIDENTIALITY: Is it Endangered?
As a society we are more open than ever before. We divulge to the world what’s for dinner, who we’re with, and where we’re located. With the sharing of our personal lives in epic proportions, it’s easy to forget to practice discretion and protect each other’s privacy along the way. If we’re not careful, we can quickly find ourselves on a slippery slope. Before we know it, we’re sharing news that is really not our news to share.
Truthfully, breaking confidentiality is nothing new. Long before Facebook and Instagram there were telephone party lines, neighbors chatting over the fence, and other means of sharing the local “news.” In fact, gossip has been around since the snake twisted the words of God in the garden. The devil knows the power of words. The Bible warns of its damage:
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. Proverbs 11:13
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28
When confidences are broken, trust and relationships are at risk.
So, how can we foster trust and confidentiality in an open-book society? As leaders, we begin by setting the example.
As a pastor’s wife, people often share their concerns and problems with me. I cannot always help them, but I can listen, and I can pray. Keeping their issues confidential is vital.
Are you a woman with whom others feel they can place their trust? Do they know that you will practice discretion and protect their privacy? Do you assure them of this when they confide in you?
All too often I’ve seen Christians falling victim to the “I wanted to share so others could pray” lie. That is, justifying the betrayal of trust so more can pray for the need. Sharing the news of others, without their permission, is still a betrayal of trust, even if prayer was your motivation. A simple request, “Can I share this with the Pastor or with the prayer team” can solve that issue and shows you value confidentiality.
What if others approach you with unwelcome information? The best response is a simple “Oh.” This stops most gossip in its tracks by acknowledging the speaker without encouraging more information. Try it, it works!
Model confidentiality, Leader. Then teach it.
At Bible study, small group, or any function during which private concerns, prayer needs, or family details are shared, establish a confidentiality commitment immediately.
For example, whenever I begin a new Bible class, I’ll say, “Over time we’re going to get to know one another better. I hope we’ll develop enough trust that personal sharing and real-life application will be commonplace. Keep in mind, what is shared in this room, stays in this room.” Occasionally reminding your group of this commitment will stimulate conversation, build trust and create stronger relationships.
But what if it’s good news? If it’s not your news, sharing it without permission is still a breach of confidentiality. In my rather large family news travels fast! I can remember several times I’ve asked my mom, “Did you know that?! Why didn’t you tell me?” She would answer simply, “It was not my news to share.” I have taken this lesson to heart.
It’s difficult, I know! I love a good conversation with a girlfriend. Add coffee to the mix and I’m really in danger of exposing my gift of gab. I try to watch my words, but sometimes I let things slip. I mess up. You mess up. Grace and forgiveness must be a part of this equation.
Confidentiality is a like a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly and intentionally. In our “share-it-all society” it does not need to be endangered. Our best practice for building confidentiality and trust is to lead by example, instruct, and forgive and offer grace when those practices are forgotten.WLI