Sunday, October 6, 2013


Nothing is more dangerous than a friend without discretion; even a prudent enemy is preferable.                                                                                          Jean de La Fontaine, French poet 

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me but at various times in my life, and in various circumstances, I have been known to have a big mouth.  I have said things that I probably should have held back on.  I have given my opinion when it wasn't necessary and, I'm sure, not particularly welcome.   I have commented when a comment wasn't required and I have, I am sorry and embarrassed to say, engaged in conversation that could only be referred to as gossip.

I have been guilty of a lack of discretion.

I am not the only one guilty of this.  We see that lack of discretion everywhere - 'reality' television programs, the news of public figures and politicians and their sexual indiscretions, 'fashion' choices of teenagers as well as posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other forms of social media.  The fact that I am not alone in this poor behavior is little comfort.

As I have spent more time in self-evaluation, I have become more and more conscious of the impact of my words.  I have also become more thoughtful and cautious about what I think I need to say in any given circumstance.  I'm sure that this habit can be annoying at times.  When someone is always carefully choosing their words, it can be taken as self-absorption, self-aggrandizement, or even as an attempt at deception.  I have been known to say, and people have said it to me, "Just spit it out!"  Always measuring your words can put a barrier between people.

In relationships where there is trust and deep knowing, that practice of "just spit it out" can become a habit - in many cases a welcome one.  However, even the most solid relationships need care and nurturing.   We can become so certain of our own interpretation of 'the truth' that we convince ourselves that our lack of discretion is
justified.  Henri Frederic Amiel, a Swiss philosopher put it this way:  "Mutual respect implies discretion and reserve, even in love itself; it means preserving as much liberty as possible to those whose life we share.  We must distrust our instinct of intervention, for the desire to make one's own will prevail is often disguised under the mask of solicitude."  Just because people choose to share their lives with us that doesn't give us carte blanche to speak aloud to others things that can be hurtful, even if we deem it to be true or in someone's best interests.

Recently I have been witness to the fallout of another's lack of discretion.  It has been painful to watch.  Hurt, betrayal, confusion, grief, anger -- all of those things have been the result of this lack of discretion - this violation of confidence.  Self-confidence has been battered, reputations have been harmed, and relationships have been damaged - perhaps irrevocably.

I can certainly understand the mistake.  As I say, I have made that mistake myself.  At times the desire to share what you believe to be truth can feel overwhelming.  If the circumstance is that you believe you have been wronged, 'setting the record straight' can make a lack of discretion seem justifiable.  In the end, though, I can't help but believe that such a 'victory' is a hollow one.