Discretion

What is discretion, as it relates to cautious reserve in speech? There is this idea of discretion, it’s kind of a tricky I feel — maybe not all the time, just times that it has huge implications.

I see discretion as a continuum, with tight lipped vagaries on the left and loose lips sinking ships1 on the right. Discretion lies somewhere in between, in this hazy fog where it’s hard to navigate.

And even if you think you’re doing a good job of being discrete, someone else always has a different opinion of discretion; a different opinion of what should or shouldn’t be said.

I feel that discretion has a lot to do with expectation and uncertainty. I tend toward full disclosure when I don’t know because, for me, information is a way to reduce uncertainty, and giving more information should help reduce the uncertainty in any given situation. Right?

But is having more information always better? Information can empower, but it can also overwhelm. Take, for example, the paradox of choice:

From www.columbia.edu:

Current psychological theory and research affirm the positive affective and motivational consequences of having personal choice. These findings have led to the popular notion that more choice is better, that the human ability to desire and manage choice is unlimited. Findings from three studies starkly challenge the implicit assumption that having more choice is necessarily more intrinsically motivating than having fewer options. These three experiments which were conducted in field and laboratory settings show that people are more likely to purchase exotic jams or gourmet chocolates, and undertake optional class essay assignments, when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than an extensive array of 24 or 30 choices. Moreover, participants actually reported greater subsequent satisfaction with their selections and wrote better essays when their original set of options had been restricted rather than expanded.2

While this study doesn’t explicitly deal with truth, I think it’s an interesting corollary: More is not always better and even when we think more should be could, it can actually be bad. Does this hold true for information as well? Maybe I don’t really want-to-want to know the launch codes for the nuclear missiles.

So, what is is threshold on the continuum of truth and disclosure? Where do I find the middle ground? How do I find the middle ground?

Ne quid nimis.

This, like many things, is a continuing process for me, and this is pretty much where I’m at.


  1. “The War Advertising Council’s “Loose Lips Sink Ships” public service ads reminding Americans of the dangers of revealing too much information are still remembered today. This particular campaign encouraged Americans to be discreet in their communication to prevent restricted information from being leaked to the enemy during World War II.” – http://www.adcouncil.org/default.aspx?id=127 

  2. Iyengar, Sheena S. and Lepper, Mark R. When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? 

One Reply to “Discretion”

  1. perhaps its not about finding the middle point of discretion. because discretion is not a fixed point. discretion is simply an awareness of situation, self, and audience…and recognizing what’s appropriate for that moment. sometimes it will be appropriate to share “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, and sometimes it is appropriate to say nothing at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *