Monday, January 19, 2009

So Many Secrets

"A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret"
- Proverbs 11:13

I was reflecting on some of the interesting things that come with being a counselor. There are many, but one of the unique ones is that you get to hear a lot of secrets. Sometimes people tell you things that they have never shared with another human being. Confidentiality is one of the most beautiful things about the therapeutic relationship. I believe people long for a safe place to honestly share their joys, pain, thoughts, and feelings.

So I end up hearing and keeping a lot of people's secrets.

Perhaps some would find that difficult, but I don't yet find it a burden. Although I'm far from perfect, in my personal life I think I'm overall fairly trustworthy. I've noticed (and been told by others) that people will often feel free to share their deep and vulnerable "stuff" with me, even if the don't know me that well. The other day I was chatting with a new acquaintance when all of a sudden they were telling me about some deeply painful memories. One time at a banquet I was sitting beside a complete stranger who out of the blue began sharing with me all about her concern for her daughter (who was undergoing intense personal struggles). Granted, some times people share with me because they know I'm a counselor and hope I can offer a listening ear or a word of advice. But often they share whether they know my profession or not.

So here's my question: Are you the kind of person who it is safe to share something with? Do you pass on peoples private information easily to others? I believe that lots of people can sense a trustworthy/untrustworthy person. And such traits get noticed. In one of Phil Callaway's book's he talks about how his Mom was talking with a gossipy neighbor. When the neighbor started talking about a church member's personal issues, Phil's mom said "Why don't we go and talk to her (the church member) about this right now?" The gossipy neighbor immediately stopped gossiping! Callaway ends the story by saying that because his mother would neither gossip nor listen to it, she knew more about anyone in that little town because she was everyone's confidant. Ironically she knew way more then her gossipy neighbor!

It's so easy to talk about people behind their backs; we can justify it in a million different ways. "We're all family" or "they need prayer" or maybe even "they need help." But the truth is if we don't have permission to share it, we're treading on this ice. My personal standard is to ask myself "Would I be OK sharing this if the person I'm talking about was in the room right now?" If not . . . well, I shouldn't do it. What starts out innocently quickly becomes gossip and slander. I have seen several ministries and churches robbed of their vitality or completely destroyed by these things. The sting of a gossip's betrayal is painful indeed - I know this because sadly I have been on both sides of the equation.

So, do people trust you with their secrets? There's only one way to find out. Ask those closest to you (friends, family, co-workers) to rate your trustworthiness with secrets on a scale of 1 to 10. I dare you! If you are brave and teachable enough to ask this question your prognosis is very good.

May Light increase!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,
It isn't just confidential stuff that can be gossiped about. People that make up stories or "expand" on what really happened in a situation can encourage gossip and ruin a reputation.

Great post, though, it is a great reminder to watch our tongues.