Archive for March, 2014

Rumor Has It: Secrets, Confidentiality, and Transparency

March 13, 2014

All of these things whispered in my ear, tell a story that I cannot bear to hear;

Just cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it.                                                                       

People say crazy things…        

Just cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it, just cause you heard it…                                                                                               

Rumor has it                              -Adele, Rumor Has It

They heard the  sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”                          -Genesis 3:8-10

Interpersonal communication is hard, isn’t it? Even though we humans have the capacity to communicate on a much higher level than animals do, we still have a hard time effectively conveying the information we want and need to share with another person. Sometimes we are embarrassed about something and don’t want to share, but may need to in order to get help; sometimes we’re angry or hurt by something someone else has said and we don’t know how to approach them about it, or even whether we should or not. It can be tempting to hold things inside, keeping things secret; or to share with someone, maybe drawing them into the secret with us or creating a triangle with a third party. We may get confused about when it’s ok to keep a secret, to hold something in confidence, or to be transparent. But for good, healthy communication between individuals or within a group such as a corporation or a congregation it’s important to know the difference in these things.

For example, sometimes keeping a secret is a good thing. you may be planning a surprise party for someone, and if the invitees didn’t keep the secret it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it? But secret keeping can be damaging when it means hiding something that the parties holding the secret deem to be shameful, or would hurt others if the information became public; or hiding something to keep up appearances. For example, a family that looks from the outside like the “perfect family” but is hiding the drug addiction of a member of the family can damage the family because the secret makes a lie out of the family image. In a church situation, when there is abuse by a minister toward a congregation member, that member will be damaged emotionally and spiritually if the situation isn’t addressed and the perpetrator isn’t called out and penalized for their behavior. In the end the entire congregation can be damaged by keeping such a secret, even if it is done with the best of intentions.

Sometimes we need to share information with others that we might not want anyone else to know. That is when confidentiality comes into play, when we share a secret that belongs to us but that we don’t want just anyone knowing. Trust is a big factor here– if someone tells us something in confidence we must keep the confidence until we are sure they are ok with it being told. However, telling someone something in confidence doesn’t mean sharing the information with the expectation that it will be passed along anonymously. Again, this is an unhealthy situation in a relationship and can put the “tell-ee” in the middle of a disagreement or a broken trust. In a congregational situation, when a few members share information or their “feelings” about an issue with another member, with the expectation that they will not be held accountable for those feelings, again it creates an unhealthy situation that can damage a congregation. For example, the board wants to change the worship service; some members agree and some don’t; but because the ones who don’t are speaking through a third party, the board doesn’t know who or how many are opposed. They can’t address the issue directly, and the changes to the worship service don’t happen. Then members who supported the changes are upset and a rift develops in the congregation. Or perhaps there is misconduct by a staff member; the board decides to terminate the staff member but keep the reasons “confidential.” The staff member has supporters among the congregation who aren’t aware of the misconduct and are hurt and confused by the termination. Again, a rift develops, and members may leave in support of the staff member, who they feel has been wrongly terminated.

So when is confidentiality healthy? Suppose I have cancer; I need support but don’t want the general public to know. I can share my diagnosis with my pastor or a trusted friend and ask them to keep it in confidence. This is a healthy practice because I am choosing who I want to share the information with, it is my information to share, and it doesn’t involve anyone but myself. Or perhaps my husband and I are getting a divorce; I can share that information with whom I choose in order to have emotional support, but it would be wise to ask that the information be kept confidential until the time comes that it is public knowledge. In a congregational setting, confidentiality rules often come into play when a new pastor is being sought by a congregation. The search committee needs the freedom search for an interview candidates without interference from the larger congregation; certainly there are times allotted for congregation members to express their ideas about what skills and personality type the pastor should have; but it is good for the search committee to work without too much input from the outside.

For me, transparency is almost always the best way to go. Secrets can lead to rumors running rampant– rumors that aren’t necessarily true and so may damage a relationship or congregation. Keeping confidences isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but when you keep them to keep someone from being held accountable, even if it’s just accountable for their opinion or belief, this is unhealthy emotional behavior. Transparency means that all of the relevant information is shared, everyone is accountable for his or her own opinions or beliefs, and decisions can be made in openness and trust.

It strikes me that one thing that Adam and Eve lost when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was trust. Once they saw that they were naked, they were embarrassed, and when God came into the garden they hid because they were afraid. They no longer trusted God to care for them because of what they had done. This loss of trust may be the nugget at the center of all of our human failings, for when we have no trust in a situation, when we feel that we must hide ourselves in order to escape punishment or censure, or when we feel that we can’t trust others to be truthful, relationships break down, organizations break down, and we lose that connection, that ability to communicate, that sets us apart from the rest of creation.


Walking the Labyrinth in Winter

March 4, 2014

Today’s blog is a video blog, taken as I walked the outdoor labyrinth this morning at Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, KY. A winter labyrinth walk outdoors is somewhat different than a summer one, today especially because of the snow and cold. It was a very enjoyable walk, however, and I invite and encourage anyone in the area to stop by and try it out– don’t let the snowy cold keep you away!