My Purpose Driven Life: – Day 19 – Part 5: Confidentiality

3428954199_edf6160592_bThe Purpose Driven Life: Cultivating community takes confidentiality. Only in the safe environment of warm acceptance and trusted confidentiality will people open up and share their deepest hurts, needs, and mistakes. Confidentiality does not mean keeping silent while you brother or sister sins. It means that what is shared in your group needs to stay in your group, and the group needs to deal with it, not gossip to others about it. 

Purpose 2 of the Purpose Driven Life is about how we learn to love one another as Jesus loved us. The end result of this kind of love is a family environment that nurtures us and helps us to grow. As most of us grew up in families that were dysfunctional to some degree or the other, the first version of a spiritual family that begins to form is likewise sometimes somewhat dysfunctional. If we keep moving forward, it becomes less dysfunctional.

Lists of Dysfunctional Family “Rules” often include the following:

Control— One must be in control of all interactions, feelings and personal behavior at all times—control is the major defense strategy for shame.
Perfectionism— Always be right in everything you do. The perfectionist rule always involves a measurement that is being imposed. Fear and avoidance of the negative is the organizing principle of life. Members live according to an externalized image. No one ever measures up.
Blame— Whenever things don’t turn out as planned, blame yourself or others. Blame is a defensive cover-up for shame…Blame maintains the balance in a dysfunctional family when control has broken down.
Denial of the Five Freedoms— Each freedom has to do with a basic human power—the power to perceive; the power to think and interpret; to feel; to want and choose; and the power to imagine. In shame-based families, the perfectionist rule prohibits full expression of these powers.
The No-Talk Rule— This prohibits the full expression of a feeling, need or want. In shame-based families, members want to hide their true feelings, needs or wants. Therefore, no one speaks of the loneliness and sense of self-rupture.
Don’t Make Mistakes— Mistakes reveal the flawed vulnerable self. To acknowledge a mistake is to open oneself to scrutiny. Cover up your own mistakes and if someone else makes a mistake, shame him.
Unreliability— Don’t expect reliability in relationships. Don’t trust anyone and you will never be disappointed.

Healthy families overcome these dysfunctional realities through healthy communication. A corollary of the No Talk Rule, however, is that family members never talk with outsiders but must always protect and conceal the family secrets.

The Purpose Driven Life is clear about the problem of gossip: Gossip always causes hurt and divisions and it destroys fellowship, and God is very clear that we are to confront those who cause division among Christians. They may get mad and leave your group or church if you confront them about their divisive actions, but the fellowship of the church is more important than any individual.

It’s a valuable thing to understand the payoff that a person gets from gossip. Here’s a joke:

Mildred, the church gossip and self-appointed arbiter of the church’s morals, kept sticking her nose in the other members’ private lives. Church members were unappreciative of her activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She commented to George and others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny; he said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred’s house… and left it there all night!

The following motivations are often the payoff for gossip:

1. The desire to feel safe around other criticizers, and get a feeling of intimacy and closeness from them. Dysfunctional families are a rough environment, and fitting in can be a very great concern when you believe that the world only has two kinds of people: victims and victimizers. Few of us will volunteer to be victimized, but it often doesn’t occur to the person used to the hostility of a dysfunctional family that other relationships aren’t based on the two choice worldview of victim or victimizer. The problem here is trying to fit in with the mean people, and believe that they will never turn on you. The problem with winning the rat race is that you are still a rat.

2. The desire to feel superior in comparison by lowering the esteem of others.   There is a feeling of winning that comes from defeating someone else in a battle of wits … and it’s much safer to do it behind their backs where they aren’t even aware of what they’ve lost. When someone is filled with shame, for some reason it seems to relieve that shame by making someone else feel ashamed.

3. The desire to focus attention, and particularly criticism, away from oneself to someone else by criticizing someone else before you can be criticised. If someone is going to be victimized anyway, perhaps you can control the environment by pointing out someone else to the sharks. Sometimes people form alliances by identifying enemies.

4. To take revenge on someone indirectly, so as to appear to be their friendhow else would you know their secrets?while simultaneously betraying them to others. Sometimes gossip is payback, for real or imagined hurts, and sometimes it’s simply revenge for the feelings of inadequacy that a person can feel around someone who seems better than they are.

In Leviticus 18 and Genesis 9, we find warnings about the harm done by “uncovering someone’s nakedness.” While some authorities suggest that this is a euphemism for improper sexual activity, gossip is certainly an activity that exposes something very private and intimate … it exposes someone’s nakedness, something that should be protected, and violates their need for safety. Once what is to be protected by privacy is nakedly revealed, they feel shame and can no longer feel safe.

If you are tempted to gossip, consider the previous reasons, all based on boosting your ego at someone else’s expense. Consider your motivation honestly … is it all for your benefit? Or do you have a concern for the person as well as the problem you are tempted to communicate with others? Telling anyone is typically gossip … but the choice is not so clear when you are tempted to tell someone in authority: a pastor, a teacher, a principal. If your intent is honestly and simply the welfare of another person, for example, perhaps it is not gossip to tell a pastor. But if you feel a little charge of joy or energy to confess someone else’s sins, it’s probably gossip.

If you are tempted to gossip, consider taking Romans 2:1 literally as a principle: Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. Understand that what you tell others about a third person, you are revealing to them something that is also true of yourself. We are scandalized by the behavior in others that we struggle with inside ourselves. When you reveal your own hidden temptations and sins in this way, you make yourself more vulnerable to being used and abused by others. You not only decrease the safety of the other person, you give up your own safety as well. What goes around, comes around – you will reap what you sow in what you say. As Galatians 6:7-9 clearly says: Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. Use your words for good and not to do harm.

I once learned the secret of ending gossip in a workplace. If you do this, you will never hear another word of gossip. Diane Fassel shared this in a workshop on her book, The Addictive Organization, in Quincy, Illinois, in the early 1990s. The premise of the book is that organizations can have all the characteristics of dysfunctional families with addictions and codependencies.

“When someone comes up to you with something juicy,” she said, “you grab them by the arm and hold on tightly. Then you tell them that you want to hear it, but that you feel it would be best if it was repeated in the presence of the person that it is about. Then you drag them to that person…”

Or, she said, more seriously, you could tell them that if they didn’t go with you immediately to work out the issue in conflict with the other person, you would feel that it was your duty to immediately do so.

Diane Fassel is my source for my understanding of TACT mentioned in a previous post: Tell the Absolute, Complete Truth. Tell the complete truth to all involved. Say only what you would say in front of them, and say nothing that is not said in their presence. When others approach you, drag them to the third. This stops all behind-the-back talk.

Why? You’ve become untrustworthy to those who would wish to gossip. You won’t hide their secret sharing of someone else’s secrets. And you will never be trusted with gossip again. Not a bad thing, eh?



Some quotes in italics are from Day 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).

Dysfunctional Family “Rules” quoted above were adapted from J. Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You, and were found at this site:

A review of “The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate Sick Organizations” by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel can be found here:

The photo is by obieta, courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons License, and can be viewed at:

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