The Practice of Confidentiality

At the beginning of all my courses and gatherings, I share 4 guiding principles to help us share sacred space. The last principle is about the Art of Confidentiality. I like to encourage people to keep this principle in the back of the mind throughout the event. These are some questions we can be aware of whenever we speak:

a) Why are we telling this story?
b) How can we tell it with integrity and also be authentic with our feelings?
c) Are we honoring the hearts of the people in the story, including ourselves?
d) Are we honoring the confidentiality of the people in the story, including our own?
e) Are there identifying details that can be removed, which are not necessary for the heart of your story? (e.g. names, dates, locations)
f) Can the story be shared via Archetypes instead of actual identities?

I appreciate that Confidentiality is an art form and not an exact science. We cannot use strict rules in this realm as each story and circumstance may require a different approach. The audience we are sharing with will also affect what we choose to say. Confidentiality is a matter of conscious intent and effort. Our skill in this art really evolves if we practice it whenever we speak or share stories.

However, stories do travel and we must allow that natural tendency to flow. As storytellers, we can take responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of people involved in that story. Sometimes we do need to reveal details and identities for the story to make sense. Other times, it is really not needed because the story still works without those details. For example, instead of talking about “my friend John Smith’s divorce”, i can simply say “a friend’s divorce”. This way, we make the story more safe for travel; we gift our listeners with the option of sharing the story without worry of betraying our trust or confidentiality.

As witnesses, listeners and confidantes, we too have the ability to transform the stories we hear by removing identifying details if they are not needed. We can be mindful of confidentiality even if the speaker was not! One technique that I use a lot, is the employment of Archetypes rather than actual identities and Archetypal teachings rather than specific details. We are no longer relaying facts – we are reflecting what touched us. Instead of spreading possibly inaccurate statements or breaking confidences, we are now in the realm of interpretation as we share an anecdote that is stripped of personal information. Jane Smith’s ordeal with her boss Jim Jones at ABC company can become the archetypal story of an employee who stood up for her principles despite the threat of being fired.

Of course, there are times when knowing the names and places are important. For humanitarian reasons, we may have to divulge facts that break confidence. We may share classified information despite the legal or personal consequences if we feel there is a higher purpose being served. e.g. Whistleblowers are archetypes that must deal with breaking confidentiality in order to serve a greater purpose. In these cases, getting the facts right is of extreme importance.

Sometimes, we will also share enriching details in order to help people remember or connect more deeply with a story. Documentary subjects often agree to be in the spotlight – sharing private information in order to tell a compelling story that will touch the world or transform our perspectives. Autobiographies and biographies reveal many personal details for the sake of creating understanding or clarity. By delving into the microcosm of this person’s life, we often see ourselves reflected or we can even see the macrocosm of the world in this person’s life story. As acclaimed writer David Milch attests, through a very specific story we can sometimes experience a highly universal story.

Many people choose to be public about their lives because they wish to be teachers, educators and inspirational role models. All the while, they must navigate the privacy of their own friends and families when they broadcast aspects of their lives. On one hand, this public role may cause hardship for some of their relationships yet on the other, this act of courage will save many from suffering in secret shame because their transparency helps us see that we are not alone in our challenges.

It’s fascinating how the word “secret” is such powerful currency in childhood. Children tend to be loyal with secrets unless they witness a poor role model, experience a betrayal, succumb to unfair pressure or extreme cases, receive threats or punishment. Confidentiality is sacred to them unless they are taught otherwise. In my early years, I saw that many people naturally trusted me with their secrets. Even strangers would reveal deep things to me that they could not share with close companions. On some occasions, I was a loyal friend and at other times, I betrayed confidences because it was so exciting to let other people know I was the keeper of such treasures. I knew I was ultimately betraying myself so over time, I committed to long-term noble action rather than short-term gratification. With each interaction, I quietly studied the art of confidentiality. With every slip I made, I taught myself increasing consciousness and care. Now, these skills serve me well because I know how to be a highly reliable friend, a trustworthy confidante and an effective counselor. Now, I prefer to assume that anything someone says to me – unless clearly identified as public knowledge – is confidential. Instead of calling it a “secret”, I see it as a privilege. It is a privilege to hear part of their story. It is a privilege to be a confidante.

This is a five-part article:
1)  The Practice of Confidentiality
2) The Sacred Role of the Confidante

3) Benefits of Having A Confidante
4) Challenges of Having A Confidante
5) Tips on Picking A Confidante

This article is dedicated to my confidante and bestfriend Dhyanna. I have experienced so much healing through the long-term trust and love we share. I’ve shared my greatest joys and tribulations with her. We have been able to talk about anything because of the deep understanding and unconditional love that we have for each other. Though she now lives in the US, we still speak regularly and keep each other updated on both epic and mundane events in our lives. Having someone in my life who knows me this well, who sees who I am regardless of what happens and who loves me infinitely is a gift that i will cherish forever. Thank you for our eternal friendship…

If you liked this post, please share it!
Dhyanna says:

I am forever grateful to have witnessed first hand the Life of Little Woo…the great teacher, speaker, idea person, lover, funster and the greatest best friend anyone can have, thank you for your loyalty and devoted kindness. I love you…xoxoxo