I believe that when a secret is shared with another person, it is no longer a secret. Sometimes I’ve been asked, respectfully, to not share something a friend or acquaintance wants to share with me. My standard response is to hold up my hand and say I’m not prepared to make that commitment.
Experience tells me that my position rarely stops the person from sharing the secret anyway.
I don’t want to blindly put myself in a position of not doing what I think is right or legal with the information I’m about to hear.
Two examples. First, a person asked me to keep secret, then proceeded to tell me about their neighbour who they thought might be abusing a child. Thankfully I had not made any commitment to keep the secret. I followed up with questions and thought there might be abuse. With further conversation, I supported that person to report to the child welfare authorities.
For the second example, I was asked to keep secret the information that my good friend’s partner was having an affair. Now, what do I do? At least I had an honourable choice, and I didn’t need to factor in a commitment to keep it secret, as I had refused that request.
Knowledge of abuse towards an older adult, senior or otherwise vulnerable person is known by at least the perpetrator. Sometimes the victim is the last to question the behaviour as abusive.
Sometimes the victim shares the secret in a convoluted approach, not wanting to make a fuss or get anyone in trouble. The unwritten code of secret keepers is not to share, and victims often buy into that code.
I think there are some commitments to keep secrets that we shouldn’t honour as they were foisted upon us under duress. There is no gun-to-the-head type of force but threats weaved with subtle messages of abandonment, financial ruin, and humiliation.
To anyone who is a victim or thinks they might be, please share your secret with someone you trust, and that doesn’t include the perpetrator.
To those who have an uneasy feeling that a person you know and love is a victim and might be adhering to the code of secrets, take a big breath and then ask the victim. You know this person best. Use whatever approach you think is respectful and practical. Do not agree to keep it a secret.
Vulnerable people fear many negative outcomes when the secret is shared. Offer a helping hand, judgement-free, unconditionally – except for joining them to perpetuate the secret.
A shared secret isn’t a secret any longer and is the first step in healing and avoiding the real and imagined adverse outcomes.
Please tell me about your experiences on this topic.
I’m curious about your thoughts. Please email me or leave your comment. I really do read every one.
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My thanks to St. Albert Seniors Association: 780-459-0433 for making this Blog possible.