Interestingly, the people to whom we present this ‘mask’ often know that we are not being completely sincere. There is a complex game being played here:
- we are not communicating our honest opinion;
- the people we are communicating with have a pretty shrewd idea we are not being completely honest;
- all parties pretend publicly that what we say is what we really think;
- we reserve our true opinions for private conversations with only our closest allies.
4. When the Rules are Broken
More interesting still: whist everyone is playing the game, all parties are happy. When someone has the temerity to unmask the pretence, everyone becomes very unhappy very quickly.
This is precisely what has happened in the current WikiLeaks saga.
The title of Sir David Manning’s Times article is: ‘Why transparency is not always for the public good’. In it, he treads an uneasy path in support of his conclusion. Initially he concedes that:
“Embarrassing though this may be, the problem so far seems to be less one of content than of confirming in public what were private assessments for private consumption.”
But he then goes on to make the case that privacy and confidentiality are essential ingredients of diplomatic interaction. He argues that ‘unvarnished advice or unflattering comments’ would undermine an ambassador’s access to his host country’s ruling elite. Lack of privacy and confidentiality would prevent them from offering the best possible advice to their governments.
In other words, for the truth to be told in private, lies must be told in public. This is hardly a clear moral beacon by which to navigate.