6.15.2008

ethics question

I have an online friend, an acquaintance really. This person confided something very serious to me. She or he recently suffered a terrible ordeal. A tragedy.

This person sometimes behaves like a jerk, and I think it may be related to this very recent trauma.

Do I tell other people the extenuating circumstances that may underlie the jerk-like behaviour? It would help people be more tolerant of him or her, reduce the potential for hurt feelings.

Or is keeping someone's confidence (as in "I am telling you this in confidence") more important?

My inclination is to be a mediator, to share the information. But is that the right thing to do?

* * * *

More information that might be relevant. All the people involved are online friends only. Some are better friends than others, but to my knowledge, no one knows this person in real life. She or he is just an online name to them. There's very little chance of real-life contact.

10 comments:

Wrye said...

Well, seeing as I am currently in a very awkward position of needing to keep quiet about an extenuating circumstance, I can suggest this much: one good option is to not reveal the extenuating circumstance, but instead to reveal that there *is* an extenuating circumstance. As in, "X's behaviour might seem strange, but you have to know, tehre is more going on here that I can't talk about." This is particularly good if X is eventually likely to reveal the problem, in which case you can suggest that all will be made clear in time.

And as for me, I'm doing better, LG. I am recovering faster than my ability to blog about it. ;)

Scott M. said...

I would not reveal the trauma. The sufferer may end up being more upset with you too.

Instead, you can encourage them to open up to others, and let them know you feel they're being unfair. But that's it.

Here's my thought: In general, it's more important to preserve your relationship with both parties than to try and repair the relationship between two other individuals.

Remember: status quo is two people who have lost only one friend.

My experience is that people have to work out their differences amongst themselves. Adding a third party only antagonizes more and is likely to ruin one, if not two other relationships.

I can immediately think of three major "triangles" in my life where this has happened / is happening. I don't envy your position.

Nancy said...

My personal inclination would be to keep the matter confidential. But circumstances alter cases.

L-girl said...

Thanks all.

As in, "X's behaviour might seem strange, but you have to know, tehre is more going on here that I can't talk about." This is particularly good if X is eventually likely to reveal the problem, in which case you can suggest that all will be made clear in time.

I think this is the central point.

Here's my thought: In general, it's more important to preserve your relationship with both parties than to try and repair the relationship between two other individuals.

Please note, also, this is an acquaintance, not a close friend, who has disclosed this trauma to me. I really don't feel I have a relationship to preserve. But the offense or hurt feelings I could cause by revealing the trauma would still be real.

Remember: status quo is two people who have lost only one friend.

No, I must not have been clear. Status quo, no friendships have been lost. One person is acting like a jerk and offending some other people, who are online acquaintances.

Good advice. Thank you!

L-girl said...

And as for me, I'm doing better, LG. I am recovering faster than my ability to blog about it.

I'm very glad to hear it.

Amy said...

Since I may in fact be part of the online community to which you refer, I would ask the person whether he/she wants this kept confidential. If so, then keep it that way. It's up to him/her to tell the rest of the group.

Of course, you have piqued my curiosity. (Of course, you may not be referring to that group, in which case my curiosity can be satisfied by just telling me that!) But I don't really think anyone has not at some time acted like a jerk, and I think no one has consistently acted like a jerk; I have not been offended by anyone's behavior. I assume people act out for all kinds of reasons: immaturity, alcohol, insecurity, anger, and for reasons that have nothing to do with what they are saying.

Despite the fact that no one in an on line community really "knows" the other people, I think we do develop affection and concern for those we chat with on line. If someone is in need of support, I would want to know, IF that person wanted me to know. On the other hand, I believe strongly in privacy rights, so I would never reveal something that the person wanted to remain private.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Amy. Excellent advice (as is everyone's).

It's interesting to see when one's natural inclinations are not necessarily the Right Thing To Do.

I am a "go with your gut" kind of person, I often act on impulse from the heart without a lot of over-thinking. I've had to learn to stop, think and consider, and sometimes let the brain over-ride the heart.

This appears to be one of those situations.

L-girl said...

Despite the fact that no one in an on line community really "knows" the other people, I think we do develop affection and concern for those we chat with on line.

Oh, absolutely. What I meant by this:

Please note, also, this is an acquaintance, not a close friend

is not a judgement about online vs real life friends. I meant that I am not very close with this particular person.

I really value my online friends. In fact, I've had some very close friendships that were only online.

In 2005, shortly after moving to Canada, when we had to put down our beloved (and very troubled) dog Buster, the wmtc community was one of my strongest supports. Just one example of how important an online community can be.

Amy said...

I think by nature, I am a go with the gut person also. My professional training as a lawyer, however, forced me to deal with issues of confidentiality in ways that probably is not my natural way. I also have learned that sometimes even when my intentions were pure, revealing something that someone wanted kept private has hurt that person despite my good intentions.

FatLady said...

I am a "go with your gut" kind of person, I often act on impulse from the heart without a lot of over-thinking.

Me too and it has gotten me in trouble more times than I can count. I've learned to resist the urge to play mediator or moderator or referee or whatever. I either get dragged into something I really didn't want to be all that involved in, or one or the other parties gets annoyed with me.

A confidence is a confidence no matter the level of the relationship. Could it be that this person feels closer to you than you to he/she? Also, as Amy notes, curiosity is easily piqued so if you mention that there is "something," you could be pestered to death until you spill it! (Or in my case, it accidentally falls out of my mouth.)

I've had to learn to stop, think and consider, and sometimes let the brain over-ride the heart.

With age comes wisdom, eh L-girl?