Do I Have to Tell Everything? 728.4

Should a job applicant properly withhold information about a criminal record or termination from a previous job? Should a woman starting a new relationship say nothing about a previous marriage or abortion? These are problems of candor: When does an ethical person have a duty to reveal negative information about his or her past?

First, let’s reinforce a basic premise: All dimensions of honesty – truthfulness, nondeception, and candor – are important to establishing and sustaining relationships of trust. Intimacy flourishes in an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability. While knowledge of negative information can damage a relationship, secrets discovered later can be fatal.

Second, there’s a much higher expectation of full disclosure in personal relationships than in business relationships.

But, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, not everyone can handle the truth. So why sabotage ourselves by telling a new boss, friend, or potential life partner things that could impede the relationship?

As tempting as it is, keeping such matters secret is like burying landmines within the relationship. Undisclosed truths build fault lines under the foundation of important relationships. In a person of conscience, they can create guilt, fear, and insecurity.

Trust is a state of mind, but maintaining trust is about meeting the expectations of people who trust us. So here’s an easy test: Upon finding out the whole truth, will the person to whom you denied knowledge feel betrayed? If so, the honorable thing is to fess up.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. A criminal background has neither relevance to an abortion nor previous marriage. Subsequently, the two should not have been compared.

  2. The subject matter of a criminal background and its relationship with an abortion and/or bad marriage is obviously a misprint.

  3. I though the examples given, while not related in substance, are, indeed, related in the underlying damage they can cause a particular relationship. I don’t think Michael was comparing them to each other, but was, instead, comparing the damage caused to the foundation of whatever relation one is entering.

  4. Bill, I do not believe it is a misprint. The criminal background and past marriage/abortion were not being compared to each other. Each is an example of past experiences someone may or may not want to reveal.
    It is such a dilemma. To share the past with someone you just meet is risky. Sometimes if you wait to tell them until they know you better is even riskier.
    I love this line,

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