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Secrets Not Worth Keeping

Isn’t that a great headline?

It was the title of an op-ed article in the Washington Post in Feb. 1989. The author of the editorial concluded that was the lesson of the Pentagon Papers experience. In her autobiography Personal History, Katherine Graham writes the Nixon administration’s reaction was one of paranoia and obsession with secrecy. She writes about a show of arrogance based on fear. Her position as publisher of the newspaper was the staff was trying to get information to citizens that they deserved to know.

Another companion line in her book is…. often the things you don’t do are as important as the things you do.

You can think about this statement today in economic hard times. If a family decides to reduce money spent for an activity, you probably talked about it and discussed how to cut expenses. There was a decision to not do something, you asked others for ideas and you shared that decision with those affected.

That thinking seems to be lost in some workplaces today. We know we need to cut budgets and there’s some superficial asking for ideas. I have been amazed at the stories from different departments on campus, from colleagues at other universities and from those working in business and industry. The mindset seems to be to keep the discussions and decision-making behind closed doors. Maybe it’s not behind closed doors; maybe it is simply a lack of communication. Maybe it is arrogance based on fear.

Regardless, it’s what is not being done---communication, open discussions—that is as important as the resulting actions. Workers don’t feel they’ve been treated with respect, with civility. Trust and commitment nosedive. We’re back to secrets not worth keeping.


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I thought of your "secret" blog entry when I read this article about newspaper layoffs in St. Paul. There are so many examples out there.