Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Don't ask, don't tell" ---by Sybil Adelman Sage

"Don't ask, don't tell," proved to be less of a panacea in the military than had been hoped and creates problems for me also. "Don't tell anyone" all too often accompanies a juicy revelation I'll then be busting to repeat while "Don't ask" is the price I pay for being a parent.

In exchange for hearing something private, I'll nod eagerly and promise I can be trusted not to tell. In almost all cases, I hold up my end, but the urge to blurt it out is no less a test of will power than a leftover chocolate cake in the fridge. The constraint mode is not easy for me.

Whether or not the secret I've agreed to keep is of interest to anyone isn't even the issue. A friend recently revealed that a plot of a novel nobody I know has read was based on a true experience, cautioning me not to repeat what she'd told me. Though I have trouble remembering passwords and pin codes, anything told in confidence remains prominent in my thoughts and causes me to worry about my capacity for non-disclosure.

Because my honor is on the line, I hold to the deal except when staying contained proves unbearable. Rationalizing that there could be no collateral damage, I've occasionally given myself permission to confide in someone who doesn't know and will never meet any of the people involved. This isn't, I'll admit, sticking to the compact, but since I haven't a confidential relationship with either a therapist, lawyer or clergy, it's sometimes the only way for me to cope with the burden of keeping a secret. And the big question is whether or not there's a presumption with "don't tell" that you won't share the information with your mate.

The "don't ask" component has less wiggle room. As parents, we know that what we construe as "interest" is perceived by our kids as "none of your business." Asking not only doesn't lead to an answer, but it's likely to generate irritation. There are also friends who create boundaries and withhold information we wish they'd share. I try to be sensitive and respectful though that, too, does not come naturally and requires suppressing an overwhelming desire to ask direct, probing questions. Various attempts to chisel away at these barriers have been unsuccessful and forced me to conclude there's no way to coax these types into submission.

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