On Confidentiality

Philosophizing & Other Mind Games 

Recently an e-mail thread made its way through New England Region. One of those topics that gets many men’s interest, confidentiality is present here in the form of an e-mail conversation.

I am writing to resolve a question about confidentiality. My understanding is that if a member of a team misses a team meeting, the men who attended the meeting can tell him everything that happened at the meeting, and this is NOT a breach of confidentiality. This helps the man who missed the meeting to get up to speed, and be better able to participate in the next meeting. It preserves continuity.  


The answer is different for different teams, and different divisions. And has even been different in the same division. It really should be purposefully called out so men are clear.


It’s a slippery slope when we start … diluting to taste and compromising standards. Like a woman being … just a little bit pregnant. Confidentiality is just that … holding something in confidence.

If you miss a meeting then you miss what transpired at that meeting.  Men can always share what they got out of a meeting … but not who said what!  We hold confidentiality so all men can trust that what they say stays where, and with who, they said it. Period.


Holding something confidential is black and white. What we identify as what we are choosing to hold is not. Who we include in the circle of confidentiality also needs to be clarified.  The process a circle goes through to clarify these distinctions is often a building block of creating a healthy coherent team. Bottom line confidentiality is often misunderstood and declared without bringing the sharp edge of a sword to the declaration.


My recollection from over a decade ago was that when a man missed a meeting, he and the men on his team had an obligation to bring him up to speed so he can be a full participant in the next meeting. The man who missed the meeting had an obligation to contact other men on his team to learn what happened at the meeting he missed, and those men had an obligation to tell him. This was done while respecting confidentiality and holding it sacred.  


My profession, minister/chaplain, is one where confidentiality is of utmost important. For men in MDI, the standard of maintaining confidentiality is, from my perspective, an extremely important one for maintaining the “health of the soil” we grow in as men. I would suggest that, when you are bringing a man up to speed who has missed a meeting, don’t say the names of men or identify them when you do so. There’s no need to. When the man who missed the meeting is present at the next meeting, let men bring him up to speed sharing what they want about themselves in a three minute “up to speed” segment of that meeting. It’s that simple. No need to make this a complex issue.


There is a larger issue and theme running here. The teachings of the SMW tend to be articulated in very black and white terms. Life, however, is not lived in black and white. Life is lived in color and gray. When you hear a black and white rule, statement or concept, consider it critically. Look for the gray, look for the exceptions, and look to see how it applies and it doesn’t apply. There are times where compromise is indeed necessary and important. A case in point now is perhaps our government. I am sure most of you would agree that the reason the Congress is stuck is the inability of people to do the hard work of compromise.  


Standards will always shift and evolve to be applicable for the times. The times they change and so must we change to not be so narrow in thought.  I would rather have a pointed, passionate conversation on how we can save men’s lives or how to direct men to have their lives move in a direction of creating greater integrity.


I still say that how we choose to hold confidentiality in our meetings is part of how we inspire men to greatness.  The impression I have received is that my original question on confidentiality needs to be decided by each individual team, as there is no clear-cut practice throughout MDI.   


I also agree with the “lesson learned” about how limiting it can be to be stuck in the black & whites. I’m all for clear, definitive things like making and keeping commitments. But I also see more than 50 shades of gray in my world.


1. If I am not sure about whether or not something is confidential, then I air on the side of caution, and just respect confidentiality. Period.

2. For me, respecting confidentiality is pretty basic, black/white stuff, and a matter of personal integrity. Either I choose/agree to respect it or I don’t, but that is a choice.


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