What is our duty to keep things in confidence? If asked, most of us would agree to keep what we are about to be told in confidence. Even so, keeping that confidence may cause undue stress or hardship. Let’s consider a couple of examples.
- You are told in confidence that your best friend is about to lose her job. You know she is not aware of that and that the news will be devastating to her. You might feel inclined to tell your friend in spite of your agreement to keep the information confidential. That is an ethical dilemma: do you keep the confidence, or do you help your friend?
- You are told in confidence by the perpetrator of a crime that someone else is in prison for that crime. Ethical dilemma: do you keep the confidence and perpetuate the injustice, or do you expose it?
The dilemma arises when we agree to keep a confidence before we know what the information is. You can avoid this by telling the person who wants to share information with you, before they share it, that you’ll only keep it confidential if it doesn’t offend your personal code of conduct and ethics. Then the choice is theirs, whether to tell you or not; not yours.