Ask any five people what 'confidentiality' means and they will all likely give you some version of the commonly-accepted definition: if I tell you something, don't tell anyone else. They'd be correct, of course, but their answer would also be incomplete. There is another aspect to this concept which I'd venture to say few ever consider. I believe confidentiality is more than just "Please don't bring it up to other people," I think the hard and fast rule should be, "Please don't bring it up, period!"
This is something I became acutely aware of after my ordeal with cancer. There were complications. My oncologist, bless his heart, got rid of my cancer, but he made mistakes and I was quite ill for quite some time. But I'm a trooper -- I wasn't going to let it keep me down!
What amazed me, though, was just how many people there were who not only wanted to hear my tales of woe themselves, but enthusiastically urged me to be the life of the party by entertaining their family and friends with as many gory details as I could possibly recall, in as much gruesome technicolor as I could possibly manage. Never mind that I had chosen to attend this shindig so I could, if only for short bursts at a time, forget I was a cancer patient recovering from what was arguably the most frightening event in my life -- there was a horror story to be had and my new-found fans seemed impatient to hang on each and every revolting word.
I really, really did not want to embarrass my hostess, but I really, really, REALLY did not want to spend the remainder of my one evening out wading waist-deep into the one quagmire I'd braved the outside world to escape. As gently, but firmly, as I could, I refused.
Of course, I'm glad I had the intestinal fortitude to do that, but I cannot help but think: all of us have horrors in our lives, in one manner or another. None of us will pass through this life completely unscathed. So shouldn't we, since we all know what it's like to try and temporarily forget something only to have some well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) person bring it up and remind us when we least want them to (grrrrr!!!), think about being a little more respectful of another person's guts before heedlessly insisting they spill them all over the floor?
That's where true confidentiality comes in. If someone shares something in confidence, particularly something that's difficult to bear, maybe we should go a step further with our definition than just not bringing it up at the next town meeting. Maybe we should not bring it up at all, to anyone, ever, just in case the one who told us finally managed -- even for a few minutes -- to put it aside as they struggle to put their life back together. It's that person's story. If they want to talk about it, they'll tell you. But until then, I think the most humane and loving thing we can do is keep their confidence -- even from them!