Sunday, May 20, 2018

When parents break the rules, should other parents report them?


Each school-day afternoon during the school year, the pick-up line at a particular public grade school can wind out of the school parking lot and onto the shoulder of the entering street for at least a half a mile. The school has no official school buses, so parents must arrange to pick up their children after school.

Because so many cars are moving in and out of the parking lot, the officials at the school have made their best effort to impose safety regulations on all students and drivers to ensure that the pick-ups are safe. One of the rules hammered home to parents is that once they are in line, they are asked to refrain from speaking on their cellphones. From a safety perspective, this lessens the chance of distracted drivers holding up the line or inadvertently rolling into the car ahead of them. It also helps ensure that the flow of cars continues to move. (In this public school's state, it's illegal to text while driving, but not illegal to speak on your cellphone.)

Often, parents are not great about following the no cellphones in line rule. The teachers or staff monitoring the line do their best to remind parents, but, well, they're not always successful.

Recently, a parent reports that when she was home one evening checking her Facebook newsfeed, she clicked on the unofficial page for her child's school. Often that site is full of announcements about upcoming events and relevant bits of information about the school. But tonight, she came across a link to a short video that was posted by one of the other parents to promote her small business.

"It didn't seem entirely appropriate to have this post on the unofficial school Facebook pages," writes that parent who noticed the post. "But that's not what concerned me the most."

On the video, the parent was clearly taping her announcement while sitting in the front seat of her car. She announced to the viewers that she was taping as she was sitting in the pickup line for her child's school.

"She was using her cellphone and then posted the video to the Facebook group," writes the parent who noticed the post.

"Am I obligated to tell school officials about this?" asks the parent. It struck her as a flagrant violation of the rules.

There's no obligation to report the parent. If the observer is concerned that the taping posed a safety threat or that it could have disrupted the pick-up procedure, the right thing would be to post a comment in response to the video letting the poster know this. If the view believes that promoting a business on the unofficial school site is inappropriate, the right thing is to message the site's administrator and ask for the post to be removed. But the right thing and the thoughtful thing for the parent making the video while on the pick-up line is to reconsider doing such things in the future and instead wait until she is not in line to record the post. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Keeping the books and all that comes with them


Every year, a reader we're calling Bert looks forward to his town library's massive used book sale. The sale takes place over several days. Bert visits the sale on several days and uses the event as a way to stock up on some of his reading for the following year.

Often, after he has finished reading the books he purchases, if Bert doesn't want to keep them on his own shelves or if he doesn't have a friend to whom he might want to give a copy of a book, Bert will donate copies back to the library for it to sell at the next year's sale.

Bert writes that he's come away with some real gems over the years, ranging from first editions of decades-old titles to paperbacks of relatively new offerings. He's also occasionally found interesting material tucked among the pages of his purchases such as old bookmarks with the names of faraway bookstores; Inscriptions to prospective readers from someone presumably giving a book as a gift; Even a personal letter or two tucked away in the pages.

The only downside, Bert observes, is that he doesn't have enough bookshelves to store all of his purchases. It's not unusual for piles of books to sit by his bedside or to be stacked up on random tables and flat surfaces throughout his house.

Because his haul of books each year is sizeable, Bert often doesn't get around to reading each book until well after the book sale has ended. A few weeks ago, as he was choosing a next title to take on, Bert settled into a favorite reading chair with a book and began to thumb through its pages. Within seconds, a piece of paper floated onto his lap. Upon closer inspection, Bert saw that the piece of paper was a $20 bill.

Given that books at the sale are generally $1 or $2 a copy, he rarely spends much more than $20 each year. With this newly discovered windfall, Bert pretty much had recoupled his used book expenditures for that previous year.

While he writes that his first reaction was one of pleasure, he soon grew concerned that keeping the $20 might not be the honorable thing to do.

"The library is trying to raise money by selling the used books," Bert writes. "Is it wrong for me to keep the money knowing that the sale is a fundraiser for the library?"

Bert should not feel any guilt about keeping the $20. If he wants to, he can certainly donate the $20 to the library. Or he can use it to buy an extra $20 worth of books at the next sale. Or he can simply keep the money.

Similarly, if Bert had discovered that one of his $2 purchases turned out to be a book he could sell to collectors for far more money, he would have no obligation to share any profits with the library.

When he purchased the books, he was buying everything contained within their pages.

The right thing is for him to rest easy in whatever option he decides to take and to settle in to another good read. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


When parents break the rules, should other parents report them?

Each school-day afternoon during the school year, the pick-up line at a particular public grade school can wind out of the school parkin...