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Moral Talk Across the Lifespan

Creating Good Relationships


Edited By Vince Waldron and Douglas Kelley

Grounded in path-breaking research but written in an accessible, engaging style Moral Talk Across the Lifespan explores how our most fundamental moral commitments are shaped by crucial conversations with family members, romantic partners, and friends. Taking a lifespan approach, the authors demonstrate that moral growth is a continual process, one stimulated by transitions (e.g., leaving home for university) and disruptive events (serious illness). With chapters penned by leading relationship scholars, the volume contributes original thinking, data, and innovative theoretical pathways for researchers. For instructors it explores pressing moral questions encountered by students in their own relationships with romantic partners, friends, parents, and other family members. When is revealing a secret the right thing to do? Is revenge ever a worthy response to an insult or sleight? Why are young adults persuaded to accept some of their parents’ values but not others? Is there a right (or wrong) way to support a parent facing a terminal illness?
Moral Talk Across the Lifespan offers a stimulating blend of social science research and moral reflection. It is a key text for courses in Relational Communication, Family Communication, Interpersonal Communication, and Communication Ethics.
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Chapter Seven: The Morality of Revealing Others’ Secrets


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The Morality OF Revealing Others’ Secrets


Through the study of secrecy, we encounter what human beings want above all to protect: the sacred, the intimate, the fragile, the dangerous, and the forbidden

—BOK , 1983, p. 281

Secrets are often shared, then re-told, and even shared again. In fact, when people are told a secret about someone else, it is not uncommon for them to disclose the secret to a third party. In some cases, the reasons people divulge a secret about someone else are frivolous or self-serving. Individuals reveal the secret because it is entertaining, because it fits into a particular conversation, or because it affords them social status. In other cases, the reasons are much more serious. People may disclose a secret in an effort to protect someone from harm or even in an effort to save someone’s life. When people choose to divulge a secret about someone else, they make judgments about whether to disclose and whether the reasons they might disclose are good ones. Because revealing secrets can have substantial influences on individuals and their personal relationships, the criteria that people use in deciding whether to divulge secrets—and the way they evaluate those criteria—are important.

The purpose of the current chapter is to examine the moral assessments associated with revealing secrets about other people. First, the morality involved in...

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