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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

When Can I Withhold The Truth?

“The decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld.” ~M. Scott Peck M.D.

We have perhaps been told that keeping a ‘good secret’ is fine. Trouble is many of our so-called good secrets have tended to backfire awkwardly on us.

Whenever we falter, so far as secrets are concerned, we can perhaps analyse the reasons rooted in crossed or confused motives. No matter how well intended the secret is, the motive for self-gain is somehow usually present, not to mention the complex dynamics—because of the other people involved we don’t normally think about.

We are not typically good at predicting future permeations; how things might turn out.

When Is It Okay?

Withholding the fact and details of our illicit drug use, for instance, back when we were younger, from our children in their formative years, is a sort of secret that is based entirely upon their needs. They don’t need to be exposed to such truths; not now. But if we were to be asked about it, we would need to be prepared to offer some sort of honest, though protected, response.

Another good example is illustrated in Step Nine of the 12-Step Program. Where we wish to repent of deeds past we need to be cautious enough not to injure people in order to satisfy the making of amends. In other words, if a fact of truth has the potential to harm rather than liberate we are better to conceal it in the person’s presence. We are not going to pursue our own healing at the expense of another. Some people and situations may never be ready for our amends. This we must accept.

These are only two examples. There are perhaps many similar ones. But these two illustrate how the other person is at the forefront of our thinking, not the other way around.

When Is It Advised?

It can be safe to say from what was discussed above that the threats of keeping secrets—no matter how well-intentioned they are—are real and even unpredictable regarding the cost. It’s a risk. On the one hand, no risk means no return; on the other, one risk gone wrong can threaten, or even destroy, trust.

To keep genuinely good secrets is something we need to be disciplined at. Like telling the truth, the less we talk the less chance we have of lying or omitting significant details; similarly, the less truth we try to conceal the less chance a so-called good secret can backfire.

Now, a gift planned in secret can usually never backfire, but bearing in mind the possibility that it could might assist our planning. For example, a gift destined for one’s wife ought to be somehow marked-out uniquely for her, so that if it were to be discovered there is less risk of the wife’s mind going on a flight of fancy regarding ‘who’ it might be for or why. Our minds do funny things; better to plan for success.


The key is the other person’s or group’s need—never our own.

Withholding the truth for appropriate reason depends upon a rigorous self-honesty. If we’re honest with ourselves, accountable for our actions, and always looking out for the people affected, we perhaps have the fitting checks and balances in place.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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