The shackles of confidentiality

Has anyone ever told you told you a secret and made you promise not to share with anyone?

It happens to me at least once a month.

That awkward sensation between wanting to know what the secret is and the weight of responsibility in being the “sole” person with this secret knowledge can be a very tense position to be in.

This has come up a lot lately in and around me, thus I would like to offer you a few observations and suggestions from my own life.

There are times when keeping a secret is the right thing to do. The Bible says: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (ESV, Proverbs 11:12-13). To be sure, if a person confides in another, it is appropriate to keep confidence. However, there are also times where keeping confidence can be a hindrance to health, for the very next verse says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” We need to use decrement in our secret keeping.

I don’t have this down by any means, but these 5 observations and suggestions are things have come to help me in recent days


Keeping secrets…

1.    puts the one being told in shackles

When a person tells you that you can’t share a secret with anyone else, they potentially hand cuff you from being able to help. I’ve had students tell me things that are potentially dangerous. So much so that if something were to happen to them, and I didn’t tell someone else who could help, I would feel fully responsible for what had taken place. In like manner I have had adults share with me hurts and trauma that can most certainly be helped by the right individual. But when they tell you to keep something to yourself, they have affectively hindered any aid that you could provide. Now I’m not advocating putting someone’s issues on Twitter or Facebook, but my advice would be to tell people right up front that what they share with you may not stay with you if it’s potentially dangerous or bad for that person’s health. In the same token, one must be careful to confide in people whom they can trust and believe that any action they take has their best interest in mind.

2.    Can foster a sinful desire to know and tell gossip.

If you’ve ever been the recipient of a secret you know the feeling you get just prior to it being told. You want to know! So bad that often times, to not know would bother you for the rest of the day. Why do we need to know so badly? Sin. Secrets foster gossip and tend to make things bigger then they really are. We were fine before the secret was told to us. And guess what, we’ll be fine if they don’t tell us.

3.    Can foster a non-transparent attitude and hinders fellowship.

People love to keep their evil deeds in the dark and Satan loves to keep us under the yoke of sin. We thus learn how to hide things from the people who care the most. After a while, hiding sin and hurt becomes natural and we put up walls to keep people from getting too close. Fellowship with walls is impossible. It’s like putting up a fence between yourself and others at the dinner table. Allowing yourself to be the “wall warden” is a sure fire way to keep a person separated from fellowship.

4.    Can be an incognito cry for help.

I have noticed that when a person tells me a “secret”, it’s usually a cry for help. If it were truly a secret, they wouldn’t have shared it in the first place. Often times pride will cause us to cry out in the form of a secret. Don’t take the bait; get them the help they need. But tell them upfront that you are not a “safe place” for potentially hazardous secrets.

5.    Could be unfair to the person being left in the dark.

If the person telling you the secret was hurt by another who has no idea of what they did, my advice is to urge the one telling you to tell them! It’s not fair to allow them to grow bitter toward someone who has no idea what they have done. Keeping the secret would be hindering the potential for reconciliation between the two.   

I hope and pray that these experiences and suggestions can be a help to you in your relationships with people. Use decrement and try your best to be a help to people in need.