Policies

1995-12-06

I've been thinking recently about principles vs. values vs. goals vs. virtues and all that. I have something that I use to manage my life, which I call policies. A policy, to my mind, is different from a principle, though perhaps they are quite similar. For instance, I have a policy never to divulge secrets that are entrusted to me. And I mean never. If my sister Yvette tells me she's got a new boyfriend and my parents want to know if she's got a new boyfriend, I tell them to ask Yvette, not me. If Yvette wants my folks to know, she'll tell them. I have no standing to tell them -- really it's none of my business, that's part of my parents' relationship with Yvette, not part of my relationship with Yvette or my relationship with my parents. When I tell people that this is my policy, some of them are horrified. What if my sister were pregnant? My answer is: if she wants my parents to know, she'll tell them. I suppose some people could see this as a form of compartmentalization, ignoring the full context and all that. But this policy has worked extremely well for me -- people know where I stand, and they know they can't tease things out of me. It's reduced my stress in life, to the point that people no longer even ask me for personal information about others, because they know I won't tell. This is a policy of mine. Is there a principle here? Perhaps it's "don't divulge secrets or personal information about others", but I don't think of it in abstract or quasi-ethical terms like that, I think of it in more action-oriented terms. And I see it as optional. My wife doesn't work this way, and really I know very few people who do. Another policy of mine: never mix work life and personal life if at all possible. I mean, I will chat with co-workers, but I always remain circumspect, never let them know too much about me, I don't bring personal items into the office to make my work environment more homey, etc. Is this good or bad? I don't know. It's just the way I operate. But I'm clear on it, which helps me immensely. I think it is important to be clear on one's policies, even if they are a bit out of the ordinary. I think if you know what your policy is, it makes it much easier to make decisions. But the policy has to be clear and well-thought-out (and sensible) for it to help. (Gets back to the ancient Greek wisdom: know thyself.)


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