A person who can keep confidences has always been a rare find. The task of witholding sensitive information has proven even more difficult in today’s world of instant access.
For example, President Bill Clinton’s second term has not yet run its course, but already books are being released which give graphic accounts of the inner workings of his Oval Office, staff, and personal life. In the not-so-distant past, five to eight years would elapse before the first presidential tell-alls made their way onto store shelves. Today, however, first chapters are released over the internet as soon as an author submits the final edited chapter to the publisher.
I enjoy the writings of Eugene H. Peterson. In his excellent volume Run with the Horses, he recounts the biblical story of the Recabites. Jeremiah 35 tells their story. This clannish group of craftsmen worked with different types of metal. They were a body of wandering nomads who held expert secrets regarding traditions, passed down through 250 years, on how to work the metals in distinct ways. Peterson writes,
Craftsmen in metal would have many trade secrets, tightly held. The abstinence from intoxicants followed from the well-known rule, “loose lips sink ships.” Metallurgists in antiquity, as a rule, formed proud families with long genealogies. Marriages were carefully arranged within the guild, preventing the entrance of outsiders. The smith had to dispose of a formidable body of technical lore which was handed down and guarded jealously from generation to generation (Run with the Horses, p. 138).
Could you have been a Recabite? Would the 250-year-old metal-working secrets have been kept safe with you? Are your lips loose or tight when it comes to confidential information?
In this edition of Kindred Spirit you’ll read several stories which center around the theme of communication. Lately, I’ve been thinking not only about when to communicate, but when not to. Do I always have to be the one telling a story? At times I purposely enter a gathering with the sole intent of simply listening … but admittedly, it always takes discipline. Shouldn’t much of the information others pass along to me stop with me? Indeed. Sometimes people open a conversation with, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this…” When I hear that remark I’ve taught myself to respond, “Then please… don’t!” The old saying is worth repeating, “God gave us two ears, and only one mouth for good reason.”
The apostle Paul wrote the Colossians about how to win a hearing with those outside the faith. It’s interesting that one of his first concerns was communication. He wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Just as we should let grace lead whenever we speak, we must also learn to let grace lead at those moments when it would be best to remain silent. Both opportunities require wisdom and discipline.
In his 1998 bestseller, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., biographer Ron Chernow recounts the story of how as a youth, Rockefeller learned to keep secrets. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, in fact, would later become legendary in business circles as an organization where leaking inside information resulted in losing one’s job. You talked . . . you walked. It seems Rockefeller’s father, William, traveled from town to town posing as a deaf-mute peddler selling cheap novelties. On a small chalkboard slate he kept button-holed to his vest were scrawled the words, “I am deaf and dumb.” William would converse with the townsfolk for a few days using the slate to ask questions, until he had flushed out all the town’s secrets. A lady named Eliza Davison was so taken in by the scam that she involuntarily exclaimed in his presence, “I’d marry that man if he were not deaf and dumb.” She later did.
John D. Rockefeller Sr., for many years the wealthiest man in America, knew better than most the tremendous damage that could be caused by an unbridled tongue. I’ve observed it’s easier to find purity than confidentiality among Christians. Honestly now, can you be trusted?