Saturday, February 13, 2010

Exhibiting Privacy in Public

I have two friends who frequently send me chain e-mails--pictures, or funny statements, or incredibly sentimental stuff with the caveat to send it on. Today I got one with pictures I would have sent except for the instructions at the bottom.

So I sighed and deleted.

I get chainmails asking me to sign petitions--and occasionally one is a cause I really support. That means I write individually and send snail. I have three stores I like well enough to give my e address to. I didn't know that meant they were going to send me weekly sales notices, naive on my part. I can cancel them, but I really like these stores, so I usually glance at what's offered before I delete. Sooner or later, they may prompt me to buy something.

If I don't buy stuff from unsolicited phone calls, why would I follow the instructions of some anonymous stranger who started something on the Internet?

When I was a news reporter 30 years ago--before instant everything, no time to check the facts before putting it out there, I was sometimes given stories to write where I had to ask very intrusive questions of people probably during their personal crisis. We didn't hound much in those days, and as I asked the questions, often I was thinking,"Please tell me to mind my own business." I've often wondered if my personal reticence made a difference, or if it is just the nature of crises, but I can't remember anyone ever refusing to answer fully with good quotes which I wrote up faithfully. At least I was accurate.

When I worked for Child Protective Services again I was intruding on private lives, this time with official clout to effect change. The parents and I talked about what these changes needed to be. Given an opportunity for input, they sometimes suggested efforts I wouldn't have thought of. I came monthly, even weekly at times to see what was going on in the home. I had multiple written and verbal contacts with therapists, parenting teachers, homemakers (a surprising number knew nothing about cooking, which can drastically affect the budget), even landlords. Parole officers.

Here's the thing. People can be as eccentric and individualistic as they wish until evidence is found that because of some part of that different lifestyle, their children are at risk. Believe me, a lot of uncorrected neglect goes on, and emotional abuse, because it isn't illegal. Or maybe it is just impossible to prove in court. So folks who dealt with me had a history and/or had done something so far over the line I was assigned. I began by telling them they were going to be held to community standards. Most of them were pretty aware of what those were, the standards just seemed too hard or too much trouble. We sat down together and agreed what had to change. I wrote it up, along with what I had to do to help them, and we all signed it.

Here's the thing. I was nosy about what went on that might be dangerous to the children. I didn't interfere with their privacy in other areas. If cleanliness wasn't an issue, I never saw most of the house. If drugs were an issue, they were getting tested regularly anyway. I tried to intrude on their privacy to the extent it was necessary. Sometimes, that was pretty nearly everything. Often, it wasn't.

It surprises me with my own beliefs and behavior, that I have worked at these two jobs. I value privacy, prize it, even. I cannot think of a single person in my current life who knows exactly what I am doing or thinking, including my family. And I try to return the favor. I see a lot of them, but there is a lot I don't know and don't need to, and vice versa. I think this mutual respect and privacy makes for a good mix.

To invoke privacy for myself and others, I think involves self-respect and respect for others. If somebody frustrates me, that may just be my problem. Maybe I am the one having a bad day.

Oh yeah. I can lose it. But someone a long time agotold me,"If you are righteously angry, never say something you have to apologize for later."
It's good advice. When I ignore it and have to apologize later, I remember it and think, "well there's my refresher lesson."

And there are the two or three I can tell most anything to. ANYTHING. So again, in moments of crisis, I don't have to blab my business to perfect strangers. Another good use for friendship.

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