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Sharing Confidential Information

We all agree that we expect confidentiality when we share information with healthcare, law, or professionals. There are rigorous ethical standards that guide these relationships and we all expect compliance.


Lately, I have been thinking about whether we have similar expectations in our non-professional relationships. When we share personal information with people we know, must we tell them that what we say is confidential? Must we explicitly state that we do not want them to tell anyone? Do we tell them the requirements FIRST, before giving them the information (in case they are not able to accept our constraints?) It’s potentially cumbersome but it may be necessary.


This came to mind recently, when someone told me something very personal about someone else, whom I know. I was uncomfortable because what she was telling me was none of my business and I wondered how the other person would feel if she knew. I guess my face registered my dis-ease because the woman sharing the information offered a caveat that the person wouldn’t mind that I know. That, to me, is irrelevant. Why did I feel uncomfortable? I suspect it is about empathy. I ask myself, how would I feel if I were going through something similar, and someone was talking about me and my situation without my knowledge? Depending on what it was, I likely would not appreciate it, and might consider it a violation of my privacy. Right or not, I would reconsider the trustworthiness of that person. I felt it is very simple. I’d like to be able to make my own choices about what, when, and with whom I share personal information.

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