Thursday, August 5, 2010

If Life Had a Rulebook, Redux

I threw the 'redux' on that because I know I've hit this theme before, and I've hit on the theme before because I really wish such a thing existed.

In fact, I'm actually so desirous of life having a rulebook that I'm thinking about condensing some of the big themes I write about here into a book someday.

Anyway, I screwed something up today. No one was injured, nothing was broken, and no other major calamity occurred, but it was still a screw-up; remember, though, this blog only crosses into "Dear Diary" territory when there's a lesson or bigger picture coming, so hang in there please.

Someone told me something about a significant personnel change. No caveats about keeping anything secret, quiet, or "close-hold" came with the information, so I did what any right-minded junior high-schooler might do in the circumstances -- I told someone. Telling this person served no greater purpose other than impulse gratification on my part to share the "scoop" that I was privy to. Like I said earlier, it was a bit juvenile, but it wasn't ill-spirited.

However, this action created a lot of major, unintended sturm und drang. As the real-life game of "telephone" played out, the news got repeated around and around, except twisted in a slightly more interesting way -- and it never would have happened had I just kept my hands off my phone, and my mouth shut, in the first place.

Multiple apologies to the major 'principals' involved later on, damage control has been done. The waters are a bit calmer, so to speak, even if there's still some bad blood over the original circumstances that led to the switch itself.

The first, obvious lesson here for me is if you hear something that you're not sure is 'privileged' info, either get clarification from your source or just keep it quiet. Thankfully, the military labels every single piece of correspondence by a specific classification, so there's no room for ambiguity. The real world, however, doesn't work like that.

The second lesson, though, is even clearer: If you are telling someone something that you either a) don't want them to repeat at all, or b) want them to hold onto at least until it is 'offically' announced via proper channels, you MUST make that explicitly clear from the get-go.

I'll invoke the 'Reasonable Man' test that's accepted in common law here -- the natural thing that all people are going to do upon hearing something big is to tell the people around them. In fact, if you think about it, humans' capacity for language probably developed out of a need to share information which led to mutual protection...Steven Pinker even wrote about that in "The Language Instinct" -- I might want to tell the people on your side of the hill which berries to eat and which to avoid in the hopes that your side might reciprocate.

Therefore, if something is really secret, or at least close-hold, you probably ought to spell that out for whoever you're sharing with before you do so. If you take that step, and they ignore your caveat, then I think you've got a sturdier case to support a little bit of righteous indignation.


C R Krieger said...


I know what you mean.  earlier in the week I became privy to some such information, but fortunately, was cautioned to keep it to myself.  It was not yet public knowledge.  I was lucky.

Regards  —  Cliff

Renee said...

That happen to me on the opposite end this weekend. I was talking to someone who thought I knew, and I didn't. And was 'Umm.. what are you talking about?'

"Oh, you haven't heard.'

'Yeah, that's news to me.'

I'm not as important as people may think I am in some situations.

The New Englander said...

With both these examples in mind, it just reminds me how important is to cut out ambiguity and room for screw-ups...if you're telling someone information that it privileged, it really helps to make sure they know it...and if you're not sure whether someone knows something already, it might be worth probing a bit first..