I’m still wrangling with finding my voice. I have lots of things to talk about, but many of them are wrapped up on client stories. Saying that I can’t write about them is like cutting off an arm. The dominant one. It makes it really hard to write.
I’ve been thinking more about it and I realized (duh!) that I’m not the first person to wrestle with this problem. So I called out to my trusty search engine and asked about the ethics of telling other people’s stories. One post caught my eye in particular by framing the problem in terms of three really useful questions plus a quote from the American Psychological Association code of ethics. Here are the quote:
“Use of Confidential Information for Didactic or Other Purposes– Psychologists do not disclose in their writings, lectures or other public media, confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their clients/patients, students, research participants, organizational clients or other recipients of their services that they obtained during the course of their work, unless (1) they take reasonable steps to disguise the person or organization, (2) the person or organization has consented in writing, or (3) there is legal authorization for doing so.”
And here is my version of the questions:
Does telling the story respect the client?
Does telling the story respect the audience?
Does telling the story respect the profession?
Does telling the story have a beneficial purpose?
This is really useful to me for a number of reasons. First, it gives me confidence about where the line is. From lack of confidence, I was drawing the line in a really restrictive place and it wasn’t necessary.
Thinking about how to apply this in a way that feels good to me, I could create an “every client”. They could be a woman, a man, or even better, one of each as business partners. I could call them Barb and Bob. They have a somewhat malleable business. Sometimes it’s a startup and sometimes it’s farther along. The industry they’re in may change from time to time for the purpose of making examples work, but in general they have a service business versus selling products. And who they serve may change too. Sometimes they serve the public and sometimes they serve other businesses. In short, they get around. I like this. With Barb and Bob, I have a fun and ethical way to include client experiences.
There is also a balance to strike. In this journey of finding my voice, I started out writing as an expert, largely as if I were a 3rd person narrator. Then my pendulum swung to “oh no, I can’t tell other people’s stories, that would be unethical”, which left me telling only my own story, totally 1st person. Now the pendulum is somewhere in the middle. I have Bob And Barb and myself to draw upon. I could alternate, sometimes talking about their experiences and sometimes about my own. I could talk about how their experience lands in me. It reminds me of Zen teachers talking about non-duality: not this, not that, not both, not neither.
There’s really no need for me to pin it down to something specific. I can just be aware that I want to be real, say what’s true for me, and I can include other people’s experiences if that’s beneficial and respectful to all parties.