Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In the interests of full disclosure

I must have an excess of words to get rid of today. This post is again inspired by Lindsay, who posted a bit of a question, again, on her Facebook profile. She asks:

So then, does someone really know you if they don't know about your past? If you
don't tell them about all of those occurrences in your past, those instances
that helped truly define who you are now, can you really have a future?

I frequently throw out something I'm unsure about and write about it to try and come to a conclusion, soliciting comments to help along the way. In this circumstance, however, I've got a pretty good feeling about the answer, and I'm going to try and spell it out here, so you can comment and tell me how wrong I am. Let the fun begin!

First, a few of the assumptions I'm working on while writing this. Assumptions are important to disclose, because, well, I might assume different things than you, or Lindsay, might, and that could in turn affect how we think about things. If I do a good job laying things out here, we can have a clearer idea of what I'm talking about, and we can assure ourselves that any disagreements will be about actual differences of conclusion and not misunderstandings about our premises.

I assume that we're talking about close friendships and intimate relationships, not just the guy who happens to be sentenced to the cubicle next to mine. And, as Lindsay points out, I'm also talking about important life-melding events, not what "you had for lunch on April 14th ten years ago," as she puts it.

I come down on the side of full disclosure, every time. If you're hanging out with people you don't trust these intimate little details to, perhaps you should reconsider the company that you keep. And if they blow the lid on your bad experience, well, shame on them. And again, you might reconsider their friendship. But laying it all out, early, is easier than trying to dredge up the past months or years down the road, and it also helps establish a foundation of trust. It might be difficult because the screw-up was particularly embarrassing, or hurtful. But imagine how embarrassed you might be when the friend finds out about, and how hurt you'll be when they don't trust you any longer?

Here is a brief case study. I was once fingered for a fell deed, which I did not commit. At a later date - almost three years later - a former friend told my girlfriend about it, and how I was a bad person.

I had already had a discussion with my girlfriend about the experience, and how it hurt and what I learned. I also told her that, while difficult, I was trying to make the ubiquitous lemonade out of the situation, and that it had been an important struggle.

Former friend tells girlfriend potentially salacious tidbit - presented as but an accusation but tilted to be received as gospel. If I hadn't had the talk with my girlfriend, she would have been blindsided. But I had told her about it, and she asserted her familiarity with the sling, de-fanging its lingering venom. (Bad metaphor.) But I had told her about it, ans she asserted her familiarity with the sling, inoculating herself from its lingering venom. (A little better.)

This example shows how past situations - even when eventually cleared up - can come back to bite. To shift metaphors for a moment, consider a potentially negative part of your past as a mine in a field that we cross with our friends every day. I had cleared this problem up a long time ago, and my name was clear. I had defused the mine. But the motives of a former friend reconnected the charge in the bomb. By telling my girlfriend about the location of the mine, we were both able to steer clear of it, and when it detonated by itself, it threw dirt up into the air, hitting - and injuring - no one. Metaphor maxim: defuse mines, but remember them.

Another point to make is that I had the luxury of being right in the aforementioned situation. I think, however, that the rule of disclosure holds up in situations where we were in the wrong, as well.

Case study #2: I once fell asleep at the wheel, and drove my car into a creek. The week after I had been picked up for drunken driving. (Let's all say "Stupid" together.) It was the culmination of a bad month, really, that I had handled, really, badly. Like watching the line on the stock market, it was a recession, plunging me from a high into a spectacular low. I continue to deal with the mostly job searching consequences more than three years later. I probably could have learned many of the same lessons by reading about how much of a pain an OWI charge in the state of Iowa is, about contemplating how seriously such a conviction would mess me up for years and years and years, and thinking about how much money I would be wasting. But I might have lost sight of that. Having actually made the mistake, well, let me tell you, I know better now. And I'll always remember it.

This is also something that should be disclosed, early and often, to people who are in a position to need (in the case of potential employers), or deserve (friends), to know. Furthermore, it is something that anyone can find out, with little trouble. Criminal background checks are almost ubiquitous now in searching for any employment. And, yes, you too can run a background check on me. (At least in the state of Iowa, where it is free for many details. I've not resided outside of the state since I've been of legal driving age, when I began accruing tickets, so I don't know about Colorado or Wyoming. A piece of good disclosure: I haven't been so much as pulled over in over three years now. (Knock wood.))

There are two problems with concealing any sort of conviction. The first is that, as I mentioned above, they're almost impossible to hide. The second is that they are serious issues that should be disclosed, discussed, and reflected upon. A third problem is that obscuring such convictions is dishonest, and as Kant reminds us, that's bad.

So I'm all for disclosure. And if you ever run into me at my local tavern, I'm almost certainly be happy to chat you up about all sorts of things that most people consider too personal to talk about. I don't need a drink, just someone to talk to. I'm a very public person. Chalk it up to my college time in journalism, where transparency is lauded as king.

A final thought. You might be wondering why I would write about my drunken driving experience, when I've already mentioned it seems to be causing me problems finding a job. You may also be wondering why I was so intentionally vague about the situation in the first case study.

Anyone who will employ me deserves to know about the OWI, and I am, frankly, not interested in someone who knows about it and dismisses me on the spot. I think it shows a lack of critical thinking and sitaution - by - situation analysis on their part. It also means that I would likely be fired when they did find out about it. (A little self interest is OK, when balanced against the rights of others, methinks.) And maybe, just perhaps, you'll learn enough to avoid making my mistake.

As to the vagueness about the other case study. I don't go into detail because of a problem with people in general, and newspapers in specific. First, I'll address the newspaper issue. Newspapers love to publish the police blotter, and run stories about how someone got shot, and about how someone is now on trial for said shooting, and how they're subsequently executed. Why is this? Because people like reading said stories. What newspapers are lousy on reporting is the disposition of charges, accusations, and gossip. Instead of running the blotter, I would argue that newspapers should just run the outcomes of trials and plea arangements (which actually make up the lion's share of convictions). But they don't - because people aren't interested (or are they?). People generally aren't interested in the outcome of a situation. They read the charge, the accusation, the grand jury's topic of inquest, or hear some gossip. Innocent until proven guilty requires brainpower. Too many people (hopefully, no readers here), are incapable of that, or harbor some distrust of the cleared person even after the clearning.

Finally, I'd like to thank people who make stuff available for me to borrow, repackage, or readdress here. Lindsay gets a nod for inspiring a few posts, while Dr. Tom gets kudos and thanks for his HSUS link and some other material he hasn't agreed to make public (I haven't heard back from him on my request yet) but has helped me immensely. Casandra, close friend, receives my most gracious thanks for feedback, as does Lacey, for the comments. I hate to sound jaded, but I think I just touched on all four of this blog's readers. (Hint, hint: If I missed you, post a comment!)


Lacey said...

I couldn't agree more with your blog! The only time I could see a few exceptions to where not disclosing one's past would be ok, would be traumatic or very emotional events that might have happened in a person's life (ex. child abuse). Although those events did shape that person, and could very well reflect who that person is today, this is information that a person has a right not to share with anyone if that is how they feel. I think that having at least one confidant for those kinds of things is very important for the healing process, but I do not think one needs to share this information with a spouse, for instance, unless they are comfortable with sharing such information. For the most part, though, I do think sharing one's past is important for a relationship to grow, especially with trust (as you pointed out). However, WHEN to disclose personal information in a relationship could probably always be debated, as people feel differently about when is an appropriate time based on: commitment level, level of intimacy, how long the relationship has lasted, etc.

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