Many years back, while practising law, I got a a very unfortunate phonecall from another lawyer. “Your client came in to consult with me today. She was looking for a second opinion. I thought you’d want to know.”
He assumed he was doing me a big favour. But he was not. The next time that particular client came in to see me, I couldn’t help but notice a change in my attitude. I struggled with it. I had no reason to feel differently. Talking to another lawyer is, of course, her right to do. She didn’t pull her case from me and the other consultation was never mentioned. But I just didn’t like her quite as much as I did before. I felt betrayed. It was unnecessary, and unfair to her, for me to feel that way. But I just couldn’t help it.
My new, unwanted feelings made me wish that the other lawyer had just kept it to himself. TMI! Not only did he violate her privacy, he poisoned my own relationship with her in the process. If I could have cut him off before he said it, I definitely would have. If only I’d known what he was about to tell me, I would have hung up the phone before he had the chance .
How many times have you found out some fact about a person, which should have been private, and then wish that you just didn’t know? You can’t “un-know” it. It can negatively change how you feel, without giving you any benefit at all.
We each have, or should have, a public veneer. That’s the image that we present once we step outside our front door, and go out there into the world. This is everybody’s basic right. Other than what we choose to share publicly, the rest of our information is, and should remain, private. There’s supposed to be a wall of privacy around our homes. But when this is invaded, all kinds of unfortunate and unnecessary things can and do happen.
We must honour the sanctity of the home and allow people to keep private their private information. We must keep our “data input” about other people strictly to what is in front of us, through ordinary means. And we have to fight the impulse to find out more.
But one thing that people rarely consider, is that to honour the privacy of other people protects YOU. This point is directed at those who might say, “I know that’s an invasion of their privacy. But I need to protect myself! So I have to find out everything I can.” Well, if this is you, then you’re absolutely wrong. The best way to protect yourself is NOT TO KNOW what you have no right to know.
Personally, I never try to find out any private information about others. I prefer to know only what’s being offered to me via regular channels – that is, whatever I see, hear, read, and experience directly. If somebody told me that they had a private file on another person who is involved with my life, such as their medical file or their financial profile, I would quickly tell them to take a hike. I don’t want to know! I don’t need to know. And this attitude of honouring the privacy of others, protects me.
It protects me against unwanted and unfortunate facts, which I never should have found out about about. It protects me from having my existing relationship poisoned for no good reason at all. It allows me to have natural, honest relationships, where I can quickly decide how I’d like to interact, without having to go and check something first.
Most importantly, always honouring the privacy of others allows me to keep giving people the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that someone has said something bad about me. If I never find out about it, then the next time I see them, that information won’t colour our interaction. This way, they can get a second chance to be a decent human being. And I’ll be none the wiser. So I won’t need to waste my energy by disliking them. I’d rather not.
Now, how about this for something irrational and bizarre: a person finds out a private fact about somebody. They shouldn’t know about that at all – but somehow, they do. And then, they take some action based on what they’ve found out. Then, when it all goes sour on them, they blame the victim of the privacy invasion, for their own decision to act! Yes – it does happen. Blaming somebody else for what YOU did, when that person doesn’t even have a clue, is worse than stupid. It’s insane.
Things have gotten very toxic out there, and I believe that the growing erosion of privacy is the basic reason. The best thing that you can do for yourself, in order to have peace of mind and be a trusting human being, is to quit helping yourself to information which is not rightly yours to have. You’ll sleep better. If everybody did that, I’m sure that we’d all be much better off.