SPOILER WARNING: Below are some Game of Thrones commentary and decontextualized quotes, though no specific plot point divulgence.

Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4 continued its uneven and, in some ways, hurried denouement of George R.R. Martin’s sprawling tale of continental politics. I’ve enjoyed, with reservations, the season so far, and look forward to seeing them wrap the story up in the two remaining episodes. My complaints, and I do have them, involve numerous highly doubtful moments of survival and rescue (there’s a difference between suspension of disbelief and suspension of credulity), and, as many others have noted, the utterly foolish battle plans, tactics, and missteps that are inconceivable given how much military experience was on the field.

But, that’s all an aside (as spectacular as the battles are, GoT is about the “game,” the politics, the intrigue, the multiplayer chess) to the machinations of the many characters. One moment between two prime machinators: Lord Varys and Tyrion Lannister, included this exchange:

Varys: “How many others know.”
Tyrion: “Including us, eight.”
Varys: “Well, then it’s not a secret any more, it’s information.”

Benjamin Franklin, quite a prodigious fellow in many ways, published, annually, his “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” which in addition to the usual almanacky stuff, included pithy observations.

One that has long stood out to me is:

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

It seems that Lord Varys may have traveled inter-dimensionally, or at least is engaging in parallel thinking, in declaring the afore-un-mentioned secret “information” upon learning of the number of confidants.

Varys and Franklin are also of a mind with another strong thinker: the Godfather himself, Don Vito Corleone, who chastised his eldest’s rash outburst:

Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again.

His youngest, Michael, narrowed that field of trust even further in the otherwise forgettable III, with:

Never let anyone know what you’re thinking.

Varys’s observation about information cannot be overstated. A secret known by too many is a secret that won’t remain that way for long, and information that one would want to keep secret is information that is often useful to adversaries.

Unfortunately, keeping secrets is difficult, as Franklin observed. For many, a secret, especially an important or salacious one, is like an overheating boiler: the pressure builds and builds, and they just have to share it with someone they trust. Ditto for information that we might not normally elevate to “secret” level. Humans, being social creatures, like to share, and most of us, I’d dare say, like to talk about ourselves if offered the opportunity to do so.

This is where skilled interviewers use sneaky techniques to get their interviewees to share things they’d might not normally divulge. One such is an overlong pause, giving an interviewee, who’s likely already feeling some amount of stress, the opportunity to fill an awkward silence with more information.

It’s something a smart negotiator knows to manage. Some information sharing can be good – it can coax the other side into a desired direction. Some can be misinformation or disinformation, intended to hide true priorities, to mislead the opposition, or even prompt divulgences or unintended actions.

Few of us, unless we hold jobs or careers that routinely involve negotiations, interviews, interrogations, or the like, are expert at managing our secrets and our information in a tactical manner. Most of us, if we cross paths with a seasoned police detective (or even a veteran beat cop), an experienced litigator, or someone who interviews people for a living, are likely to give away too much information if we try to finesse matters.

And, few of us are aware of how porous even our tightest circle of family and friends probably is when it comes to secrets. It is true that Franklin’s aphorism isn’t 100% accurate – I have friends’ secrets that I will take to my grave – but it’s close enough to warrant one rule to live by:

Shut the [redacted] up.

The secret that Varys and Tyrion were discussing in the quotes herein was shared with Tyrion by someone who swore never to share it with anyone, and who was utterly trusted by the person that the secret was about. Tyrion, in turn, shared it with Varys, and even if the two of them lock it down, eight is too large a group for any confidence in no further propagation to exist.

Don’t want the world to know something? Don’t tell anyone, even people you trust entirely. They may very well keep your secret, they might probably keep your secret, they might even successfully keep your secret. But, before you let the control of that information out of your own hands, judge why you’d want to share it in the first place. If you don’t have a compelling reason, shut the [redacted] up.

This is extra-doubly-so today, where the Internet makes it absurdly easy to over-share, and where anything you put on the Internet is there forever. It’s hard to do, and runs contrary to most of our natures, but information is a precious commodity, and should be managed even more carefully than money.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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