By Charles Moncrief
It's only a joke.
Three pastors felt it to be a good idea to confess their faults one to another. So the first pastor confessed to the occasional taking of a twenty out of the offering plate. The second pastor admitted to the pint of Irish whiskey in his desk drawer, and that he found it helpful in getting through the day. The third pastor, in the process of walking out the door, confided, “My biggest sin is gossip, and I can't wait to tell what I've just heard here.”
It's only a joke. But truthfully, doesn't it hit a little close to home? Do you sometimes wonder, when someone says the equivalent of “Trust me,” why you sometimes hear a small voice in your head reading the Miranda Rights to you? “Anything you say can and will be used against you. . . .”
It bites when you least expect it. You reach out in trust and you get blindsided. Yet there’s no way to avoid taking some sort of risk every day, when it becomes necessary to solve some sort of problem. For example, I have certain limits in my ability to solve home plumbing problems. I can replace the valve assembly in my toilet tanks, now that the hardware chains sell these nifty kits, but I do have to trust the plumber if something stops up the pipes in my house. We could go off on a couple of other tangents here. For instance, I can trust the plumber to try an upsell (“We’re running a special on these no-clog pipes, with free installation if you buy in the next ninety seconds”), and I can trust the plumber to hand me a monstrous bill for cleaning out my drains. But on the flip side, the plumber arrives with a fortune in tools that I’d use only once -- if I even knew how to use them.
Oh, should I say the plumber doesn’t judge my sloppiness? That if I’d taken better care of my drains, I wouldn’t have had to call the plumber in the first place? Now don’t get too hasty and play the greed card, suggesting the plumber eats well because of a non-judgmental attitude. Sorry, I can’t go there. The plumber is just as likely to say to me, “This one customer in Highland Park (think $$$) had pipes full of. . . .” Hold on! That’s just an inch further than saying “Harry Franklin (a made-up name) poured oobleck in his sink. . . .” You may want to rethink whether you can really trust that plumber!
The cynic learns to trust in the negative. For example, when you see the car commercial with the large “45 mpg” on your TV screen, do you still believe their test drivers burned a thousand gallons of gasoline and went 45,000 miles? Or have you learned that there’s some sort of theoretical calculation that results in a number you’ll never achieve? If you’re not yet convinced, notice whether the small print nearby includes such words as “your mileage may be different.”
“Trust me,” you were told. You noticed something unethical, possibly illegal, going on where you work. You went to see the Ethics Officer of the company -- probably someone in HR. You timidly express you concern about something you’ve observed, but you’re hesitant to say anything for fear of retaliation. (Good for you, at least at this juncture! The various whistleblower protections are generally a sham, unless you’re a member of a protected species -- or you find a champion who can build political capital by going public with your case.) The HR rep invites you to sit down in the office and closes the door so you have privacy. You hear the reassuring words “what you say will never leave this office,” so you spill your guts. Two weeks later you’re confronted by two managers over what you’ve said. When you’re shocked by the betrayal from HR, you get another assurance: “The HR rep called us into his office to tell us what you said.” Please don’t kick yourself for not hearing the little voice in your head as it screamed “Miranda!”
One of the things I caution people about -- at least, the ones who will listen -- is those employee assistance services. You know, the ones that have a 24-hour phone number where you can anonymously air your grievances? Did you ever call such a phone number from your desk phone at work? The phone whose activity is monitored? The date, times, destination numbers, and call durations are logged at nearly every company. So while your conversation is not recorded, the nine hours you spent on the phone with that number might be telling. Oh, you say, you used e-mail? Excellent, now you’ve disclosed content.
Another thing I’m suspicious about is the “anonymous” suggestion (or sound-off) boxes. Just who saw you drop that piece of paper into the box yesterday? Or who saw you go into the office of a satisfaction committee member last week?
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” You don’t even have to be arrested to suffer under this. Remember the woman who was sexually assaulted by some New York police officers? (Without looking it up, do you know whether the cops were reinstated following their suspension?) The woman took a beating in court, and she was testifying against her assailants!
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” In a different case a woman, realizing she was going to be raped, asked the rapist to wear a condom so she at least would not get an STD. The rapist’s defense attorney used her words against her and claimed she had given consent!
“You have the obligation to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” If you’re reading this on the “Time’s Up!” blog site, you may be aware that there’s a book with the same name. Susan Murphy Milano, a veteran of many forms of violence, wrote it. The book is a guide to a safe escape from an abusive relationship. One of the cardinal rules is to gain and maintain strategic a advantage -- or, unfortunately in many cases, to regain that advantage -- by confiding in as few people as possible. This includes your pastor, the police, and any personal friends. It especially includes your family. And ironically, it is vital that you avoid disclosing your plans to anybody who has been encouraging you to leave that jerk. Between the time you last heard those encouragements and the time you chose to act on them, you’d be amazed at the change of heart the well-meaning advisor may have had.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” The stakes are high, too high. It’s been said that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. And the horrible reality is that often the person you’re escaping from uses real bullets.
I'm being blunt, not to be an alarmist but hopefully to be a realist. I just can’t stress enough that if you don’t yet have a copy of Susan’s book, you should get your first copy. After you’ve read it once, give it away to one of the people on your list of friends or relatives struggling in abusive or violent relationships. It may be one of the greatest favors you can do for someone you love.
Grace and Peace,