Ever have someone share a piece of information in confidence and ask you not to tell it to anyone else, then you spilled the beans anyway? Of course you did, you’re human. Keeping secrets and then sharing them with your best friend is part of life.
And like anything else in life, some of us are just better at keeping secrets than others.
Most of us have a pretty clear picture on what a secret is; any piece of information that’s intentionally hidden from someone else. There are three main reasons why someone, (an organization or country), would want to keep a secret.
One is to gain a strategic advantage from having information that other people don’t have.
Secondly the information could or would have negative consequences for the secret holder if it were more widely known.
And third, the information would have negative consequences for other individuals if they found out about it (surprise party, where the surprise would be ruined if the person being surprised learned about it ahead of time).
But keeping a secret can be tricky. When you have a piece of information that’s being withheld from other people for any of those reasons, it takes a certain amount of mental effort to keep it secret. You have to pay attention on both what other people already know and whether they are allowed to know the secret information, too.
Now there is also a debate on whether deliberately keeping information from some one is keeping a secret or not but I'm not going to get into that (that's an even slipperier slope) but there are times when we try to withhold something just to protect an individual, not out of spite.
Then there are those where you know someone is keeping a secret for someone else, but you are tempted and nosy; don't pry and put them in an awkward position, you are better then that.
The fact is that holding on to secrets can be toxic and stressful in the long run, so you need to realize how deep are you willing to get and if you need to step back sometimes.
When you are asked to keep a secret that might otherwise get someone in trouble, you should think carefully about how you want to be involved in that situation. In many cases, these secrets get more damaging the longer they remain hidden, which can put your integrity at risk. You may not choose to be the one to reveal the secret, but you can make it clear that you aren’t willing to lie explicitly on someone else’s behalf.
Having to keep a secret can become a problem in casual conversations, where it’s easy to let a piece of information slip unintentionally. Our minds have a limited capacity to process information. So if you’re engaged in a complex discussion, it may be difficult to keep track of what you’re allowed to say and what you aren’t, which can lead to you slipping information you shouldn’t.
And let's be honest, the most difficult secrets to keep usually aren’t about the good news, they’re the ones in which can have negative consequences, either for the person with the secret or for someone else.
So how can we resist the temptation of sharing someones secret? Start by considering your idea of honesty, without compromising your integrity. Maybe you don't want the secret to keep, tell them that you would prefer not knowing. Secret-keeping can be difficult, that often requires lying overtly or by omission. And though people lie all the time in small ways, telling a lie to protect someone else’s information can be uncomfortable. How far are you willing to go?
In the end, it’s important to recognize that not all secrets are bad. Let the context decide which secrets you keep, and like always trust your gut.