Private Conversations are Private
I messed up. Mea culpa.
I recently made a mistake. I make many, but this involved someone important to me and to people I know, so it stands out among the general cacophony of my many other failures. I wanted to own up to what I did, explain how I handled it, and in general take ownership of the problem.
I won’t discuss who or what this is about, so don’t bother asking. It isn’t important to this piece. I’m just working through my own failure for self improvement and to make this an explicit policy of this blog.
I met this person at a social event, and had a very enlightening conversation with them on something they are an expert on. I thought it was fascinating and illuminating, and so subsequently publicly wrote down what we talked about and what I thought about it (a mixture of just internalizing the message but also responding to what I understood of it as I thought it was an important topic).
This was unethical and a bad idea, because it made a private conversation public without explicit consent. It irreversibly broke trust, upset the person involved and put them in potential trouble with their employer and professional contacts, and further impacted other people we are both related to.
When they got in touch, I actively listened to their concerns and offered to take the post down. They didn’t demand it, but I took the post down of my own accord because I regretted my mistake and did not want to cause further damage than I had already caused. I apologised to them and related people concerned.
I got lucky that the damage was rather contained. It could have been a lot worse and potential cause for firing, on both sides. Instead I got to mostly apologize profusely and have my personal relationships damaged. I won’t always be this lucky in future.
None of the below excuses what I did. I am just trying to identify proximate steps I can take so I can prevent future recurrence.
Before publishing, I did consider asking for consent/review, but did not, and this split second decision, which didn’t feel weighty at the time, was the critical wrong decision to make. In fact, I thought not asking was preferable, in a tremendous lapse of judgment. I don’t lack for mentors to consult on these things, but the fact that I didn’t realize this was so important also meant I didn’t think to ask for a second opinion. In future, I should more proactively consult mentors when in any doubt.
A deeper why, that also doesn’t excuse what I did, is that I have not held myself to journalistic standards, on this blog or anywhere else. I understand what obtaining “on the record” consent is, for card-carrying journalists, but I just didn’t view myself as subject to that on my own blog (again, this isn’t something I previously gave any thought at all to). I actively promote #LearnInPublic, and have generally enjoyed the privilege to write up my learnings and reflections on anything I want. However, this was the first involving private views of a specific individual (regardless of how much personal and professional mix), not publicly sourcable anywhere else, and I should have realized that this is a completely different type of content which I do not have any unilateral right to make public.
Basically I made a rank error, an extreme rookie mistake as a “new” blogger. I expect better of myself and my lapse in judgment will cloud my relationships and work for some time. I can’t undo that but I can admit to and learn from it.
As this blog becomes more of a “thing”, whatever this thing is, I will need to set rules like this for myself to follow so that people I interact with don’t get hurt. So, despite the obvious common-senseness of it all, I will make it an explicit policy here and everywhere else I work:
Private Conversations are Private.