Quotation of the Week: On Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

Given the recent WikiLeaks, I want to surface a realistic understanding of the relationship between diplomacy and transparency with a quote from a 17th century British ambassador to Venice:    A diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.In a Washington Post op/ed, Throw the Book at WikiLeaks, Charles Krauthammer does an excellent job of explaining the damage done by WikiLeaks.  He calls the leak sabotage, arguing from a number of perspectives.  He points out that WikiLeaks damage our war-fighting capacity, are a blow to our ability to collect information, and make the U.S. look very bad.You can almost sort levels of journalistic responsibility by how the various members of the media reported on the WikiLeaks.  Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times and the DesMoines Register, among our truly great newspapers, took a far more nuanced perspective.  Ha’aretz, the leading Israeli news media, was unsurprisingly cautious.  Even the Wall Street Journal was very careful in its writing, although the Journal’s sister medium, Fox News, took the Leaks as an opportunity to badmouth government and the Democrats. My suspicion is that WikiLeaks may well be the nail in the coffin of transparency.  Thirty years ago when I was a faculty member at a theological seminary, transparency in psychological training was viewed as an absolute necessity in human relations.  But just a couple years ago, I had a drink with a former psych colleague of mine, and he referred to transparency as the “naivete” which he espoused early in his career.Secrecy and deception are an inevitable, if not an occasional necessity, in all human relations.  And not just in diplomacy or negotiation.  No serious political compromise, corporate merger, complicated legal settlement, negotiation or even healthy human relationship could ever be managed without a reliable level of confidentiality and secrecy.  Even in the most intimate of human relationships, complete transparency is not always the best long term strategy for a healthy relationship.  Now that my beloved wife is beset with Alzheimer’s, her occasional defensiveness becomes obvious, and our daughters and I chuckle about it openly, which reflects the acknowledged admission of its existence.  It’s clear that our daughters and I have been aware of that defensiveness for years, but no longer need to keep it confidential.  My own attitude is that openly discussing that defensiveness was not especially useful in relations with my kids prior to her illness.  Much of our intimate relations are like that.  And that’s a strength.  Besides, there’s intriguing research that indicates that the best marriages survive because of the male’s deference to his spouse.  I’ve followed that rule for years and found deference, confidentiality and secrecy, even though obvious, very useful strategies for a rich relationship. After all, as research has shown, lying is ubiquitous in the brain.  Max Bazerman and his Harvard colleagues’ research has made clear that we all lie.  And though they believe it not to be especially so, they admit to its occasional usefulness.  So there are plenty of occasions in which transparency is not a useful strategy.  My own attitude is that the huge majority of the time truth-telling is the route to go.  For example, I despise sucking up and distrust those who do.  I’ve worked diligently to gain my reputation as a straight shooter.  But white lies, protective lying, and diplomatic lying are not only useful strategies, but can be a form of highly liberating street smarts.Yeah.  I’ve pushed the envelope on this.  But largely to make the point that transparecy can be destructive.  The rest of the time, you’ll get kudos for authenticity. And never forget that deception and lying require a lot of energy.  Energy that sometimes can be better used.
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