The Disappearance of Discretion

I value discretion.

But it seems as if this era of over-sharing and perpetual TMI has caused those around me to lose their privacy compass. I’m not paid to be the Decorum Police—just happily volunteering my time as a public service.

It all started several years ago when I worked in an “open cube” environment, which meant our work cubicles were no more than a low border around our desk and work area. You could see the entire floor while seated in your chair. This afforded us no privacy whatsoever.


Because of the floor plan, the cutting edge thinkers of the department designated an open desk at the end of our row as a place where we could “make personal phone calls.” Since it was an exact replica of our occupied desks, it offered precisely the same lack of privacy. I never said, “I need to call and dispute this ‘shake weight’ charge on my debit card, but it’s a private matter, so I better go use the phone 6 steps away.”

Most of us didn’t use it—as we understood that its intended purpose was illogical. However, one co-worker (we’ll call her Jules) took it all at face value and proceeded to call her veterinarian about one of her cats.

I missed the first part of the conversation but gained full consciousness when I heard, “Yes, I believe it’s an abscessed anal sac.”

We were all looking quickly back and forth at one another with shocked, frightened eyes. Unfortunately, the person on the other end of the phone didn’t hear her, because she let it fly again, “Yes Sir, an abscessed anal sac.”

And now a beautiful third time, as she decided to go for broke, “ABSCESSED! ANAL! SAC!”

At this point we were all doubled over, silent heave-laughing ourselves into a solid ab workout. We were losing it. As soon as Jules hung up, we all corrected our posture and feigned concentration on our work. She was a crazy coo-coo bird, but very sweet and none of us wanted to hurt her feelings—so we covered ourselves pretty well.

And that is part of the problem. With all the other moments and experiences with Jules, this is really all that stands out in my mind when I hear her name. No, not the memory of her yelling it, but the actual visual of a cat’s abscessed anal sac. And guess what? I don’t know what that looks like, so this horrific visual, right or wrong, haunts me to this day. I probably have the sac part all wrong—but either way, it is not a sight to behold.

So here is the lesson. Medical issues typically do not have favorable names. If you feel yourself about to say something involving the words abscessed, fissure, polyp, boil or puss—and your audience is not someone with which you share an address or a mother—you back that truck up.


Additionally, if you need to make a phone call at work (yes, even to your doctor) and any of the aforementioned words might see the light of day, put those two legs to use and walk away from earshot of any and all co-workers. This is non-negotiable. I don’t care if you share a wall with someone who seems to love discussing digestive regularity with you, go make the phone call in private. I can assure you that someone who is seemingly okay with excrement talk would draw the line at rectal fissures.

While we’re talking about what is and isn’t permissible at the office (and in public), let me tell y’all what—in my ideal world—a work restroom would be for. Ridding yourself of LIQUID, washing your hands and giving yourself a quick once-over in the mirror. The flossing, brushing, plucking and various other stuff would ideally be addressed in your home bathroom.

It might sound critical, but I just cringe when I walk in the work restroom and see someone leaning over the sink, brushing her teeth. To do something hygienic in such an unhygienic public restroom seems counterproductive. Dentists themselves recommend brushing twice daily, and I can think of two awesome times and places for that—in the morning AT YOUR HOUSE and at night AT YOUR HOUSE.

Worthy side note: My friend had an employee who used nail clippers in his cube … wait for it … on his toenails. That is a technical foul of the highest order. (notice I said “had” an employee)

This may shock some of you chronic over-sharers, but sometimes even talking about your cold or sinuses treads into TMI territory. A good rule of thumb: telling someone you have a cold or sinus pressure is typically enough to paint us a proper picture. I’ll have a good grasp of your snot situation without you actually quantifying it for me in measurable amounts.

The truth is, we’re already shoved together at work with people we’d probably not spend time with, if given a choice. We’re exposed to each others’ habits, sneezes and snacking. We hear about relationship issues, family feuds and financial woes. Do we really have to also hear about Carol’s bowel movements?

“You guys! Did you hear?! The African Roobio tea worked! Carol moved her bowels!”

You’re never going to hear me lamenting not being in-the-know on that nugget of information. “What?! Carol moved her bowels? When? Where? Why didn’t she tell me? Why’d I have to find out with the rest of the department? Carol SUCKS!”

Ah, the second-hand deliverer of TMI.

“Do you guys have any idea what Delores has been through with potty-training her new puppy? He has literally gone #1 and #2 in every room of the house. She’s at her wits end, you guys. They may have to rip out all their carpet. And this is on top of the issues she’s always had with Whiskers having accidents in the kitchen.”

Me: “Wait. You mean the Delores who who brings all the dishes to our potlucks?”

The second-hand deliverer of TMI—who also wants to be a hero:

“You guys, start sending good vibes now—Danny is giving a semen sample as we speak. He and Lauren think their infertility issues might be his low sperm count.”

Me: “I’m sorry, what? Are you sure Danny really wants us thinking of him at this moment and do you really believe he wants information about his swimmers making its way across our department?”

Look, all I’m asking for is a little discretion. We’re all human beings with issues and things that must be dealt with and tended to. Without a doubt, some things are unavoidable—no two ways about it. My problem with the disappearance of discretion is that 90% of the time it’s just laziness. Scoring a productive nose-blow at your table in a restaurant is lazy. Yelling at your ex over the phone at work is lazy.

Yes, please use Instagram and Facebook to share your life with us, but please don’t feel like you have to share your credit score, your post-colonoscopy side effects or anything involving anal sacs—abscessed or not.

Please join me on Facebook and Twitter!


27 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Discretion

  1. As someone who shared a cube with 2 other people for almost a year…I whole-heartedly agree with every single thing stated above. And would like to add two additional points: it’s not ok to hang up your fuzzy, faux-fur coat up next to my computer where it grazes my arm, and NO, you also cannot hang up your wet, smelly gym clothes to dry next to my face. Thanks for this helpful, public service announcement:)

  2. *raising hand* Um, yes, hello? I am a “second-hand deliverer of TMI”, at times. I’m not proud of it but it always seems people share TMI with me and I don’t know why! Sometimes I share in an effort to figuratively eject it from my system…because laughing about it is the only source of relief! The stories people share with me often make me wretch…seriously and uncontrollably. I could share many stories and probably will on my blog. (just a head’s up). 😉 This post was funny. SOMEONE needs to be the cop! Thank you for your service. Feel free to police my blog. I would find that entertaining. The gif you posted is hilarious too!

  3. Baha! As a person who rejects work potlucks due to paranoid suspicions I have of everyone being a secret “Delores” at home .. and also as a person who seems to attract over-sharers like magnets, I must thank you for this post! I cringe when I hear a co-worker on the phone, trying hard to loud-whisper to someone on the other end. I make noise on purpose so I can’t hear what they’re saying. I don’t want to hear anything I cannot “unhear.”

    • You CRACK ME UP, T. Laughing!!! I also am a magnet for over-sharers … in all forms and like you, I have to drown out things I can’t unhear or unsee … I take many a preventive measure. You’re hilarious.

  4. I too worked in a low border cubicle no you don’t get any privacy. I would be focusing on do my work when my odd-ball co-workers, would want to talk about their favorite horror movies, sports , all I was trying to do in make a dent into the Mount Olympus of envelopes stuffed with bus tickets and transfers. The Coo-coo-bird in my office (Sally) would talk to the computer like a human-being, everyone on the whole floor would hear her type on the keyboard or use a calculator so you had to blast headphones to drown her out. Once a week IT would come running and tell everyone to stop what we are working on because the (twenty-year old computer program) just blew up. She does no wrong in my former bosses eyes. He and her had this weird relationship where they would take long walks during breaks and lunch. I couldn’t take anymore. It was too much school yard drama and I worked with kids!

  5. It is truly the bane of our society that we know about someone’s private medical conditions when we can’t even tell you their middle name. Funny funny stuff! On the other hand, it IS really funny to hear the “big macho hunter football player I can bench press 7 million pounds Mr. fixer-upper” cower to his wife’s voice on the phone. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

    • Ain’t that the truth!! I’m assuming you know my middle name—since you gave it to me. And I know you’ve had your fair share of over-sharers throughout the years. And I also know you’re a champion listener 🙂

  6. Oh dear. I suddenly have the urge to call my former “next-door” neighbor at the office and apologize! If you both share TMI with each other, does it cancel out?
    Loved your post 🙂

    • You ask a good question. I wanna say yes (bc I’ve done the same thing many times) but I don’t want all the tried and true TMI’ers to think this gives them a green light! 😉 Lol – yeah, call your cubemate.

  7. We have a swimming pool attached to our office. It’s not big, and neither are the changing rooms, which can lead to a certain amount of inadvertent overfamiliarity with your co-workers. Nothing too embarrassing though.

    However, the guy who doesn’t bring a towel, but uses the hairdryer to dry his entire body; now, that’s a little strange. Standing there, legs-akimbo, blowing hot air over himself whilst everyone else tries desperately to find something else to fix their gaze on. Strange.

  8. I worked in one of those exact same cubicle environments in a call center once. A 4′ wall offers NO privacy…it’s laughable that management would turn one into a designated personal calling area. Ahh, corporate America, you amuse me so…

  9. I’m faced with not only low cubicle walls which allow me to see all the co-workers I’m not remotely interested in seeing at all, but I also hear TMI about their health conditions AND everyone else’s in their families. I don’t care!!!!!! And they don’t care that I don’t care. 😦

  10. Pingback: Half of Me Stood Still While The Other Half Went Off | terry1954

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