Saturday, March 8, 2008

On Secrets and Lies: A Moral Dilemma

The following is a hypothetical situation inspired by true events. I apologize that it is purposefully vague--I don't want to get myself in trouble:

Let's say a friend comes to you and tells you a secret, and you promise not to divulge it. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a good reason for the information remaining secret from others. It's not anything bad, but if the information were shared, it could be damaging to everyone's interests. Not only must you not tell anyone The Secret, but also you must also not let on that you know anything more on the matter than anyone else. In other words, you must keep it a secret that you know The Secret.

At first all is well. You simply put the information in the back of you mind and don't talk about it. But the trouble is: information doesn't exist in a vacuum. Every decision we make is based on what we know, so over time this information starts to become useful to you in making decisions. However, because of the information you have that others don't, your decisions start to look foolish and indefensible from the perspective of those that don't know The Secret.

In one pinnacle moment you find yourself making a decision that you must justify to others (at least those to whom you are accountable), but which makes no sense at all with a knowledge of The Secret. You choose to lie and conjure up a story that justifies your decision without having to break your word that you would keep the secret.

So what started as a justifiable secret has just caused you to be dishonest with those around you. Where did you go wrong?

1. When you agreed to keep the secret? Is keeping a secret is just another way of lying and we should avoid it?

2. When you lied in order to keep the secret? Should you just have just come clean then? Once you have to lie to keep a secret, is it then similar to a "secret combination?"

3. You didn't do anything wrong? Was it justifiable to lie in this case?

4. It depends on what The Secret was, and how important it is to keep it secret?

All of these answers have problems:

1. So it's always a sin to keep a secret? What about Bishops keeping their conversations with members confidential? Or doctors and patients? And in the workplace, there is often the need for secrecy to preserve business interests.

2. If you can only keep a secret up until you have to lie, then essentially you can't promise to keep a secret. Then, in fact, it really is a sin to promise to keep a secret (see #1), since you know you might not be able to keep that promise.

3. So sometimes it is OK to lie? As long as it's a justifiable lie? Isn't every lie justifiable by the liar? Otherwise, there would be no reason to lie.

4. Same problem as #3? If the secret is important enough, it's OK to lie? Isn't every lie motivated by the belief that it is important not to divulge the truth?

Something to ponder.

1 comment:

Jon 'Cra-Z' Mahoney said...

This is certainly a dilemma that most people are probably faced with at some point in their lives. I'm not sure that anybody really knows the answer. Can you just tell a friend you won't listen to their secrets just to avoid situations of dishonesty? Obviously not in the position of a bishop or doctor. Perhaps this is a mystery of life.