Discretion, Honour and Social Media

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter and just plain writing all place real tension in my social and professional life.

As someone who serves senior private and public sector clients there is a real conflict between my interest in policy and productivity issues and the confidentiality I feel is a central part of my relationship with them.

There is a commercial, personal and moral bond with people who are willing to invite me into their world and be open with me, and that limits what I can say. Lawyers face this all the time. Consultants like me do as well, and not just for the sake of future business.

But there is a real difference between these moments and posting the insights and confessions that emerge, alcohol-aided, from late night conversations with friends and bar acquaintances.

Often I find myself being inadvertently honest with strangers and noting how it could be a starting point for an interesting written piece or FB post. Or hearing something fascinating, personal or just plain funny.

Only to find that I think twice. Just as I do as a consultant.

Because I have relationships. Not just with my wife, my clients, my friends and my drinking buddies (no offence guys, but there is a distinction). Concern for relationships drives a degree of self-censoring that is, well, unfashionable but central to social functioning.

There are things that you just don’t say in public. You may say them sotto voce in your cups, you may say them in passing to an old friend, but you don’t tweet them, FB post them, blog them or put them in an opinion piece.

I’ve burnt myself in the past. I got pissed with someone with responsibilities who revealed an attitude and behaviours that were political, and biased, and indicative of a core public issue. I ran with it, keeping my informant anonymous, and felt like crap. I had friends who almost ditched me because of it.

And like many aspects of modern life, it stimulated me to think about honour and character. Unfashionable terms. Particularly honour, which has been associated with the moustachioed nonsense of Late Victorian generals for all of my adult life.

Nowadays ‘ethics’ is all the rage. Generally it’s code for a moralising class to find ways to force people who disagree with them to behave as the moralising class would. Unfortunate, since ethics is an interesting, if overwritten area.

But the messy, experience-based and traditional nature of honour and character seems to offer a better pathway than mandatory training schemes directed by new wowsers energised by the enemy of the day.

Pity very few people would be even capable of defining either term. Our language’s and our culture’s loss. And the loss of what should be an intuitive guide to what appears in social media and what doesn’t.

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