Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Talking Politics Over Turkey

For those wrestling with how to have a civil discussion over a holiday meal, a discussion with HKS PolicyCast

Sunday, November 19, 2017

College food fight gets messy



This fall, a teenager, let's call him Ken, has been settling in as a freshman at a large state university. Three months in, he appears to have found a good rhythm in balancing his coursework and social life.

Ken has a voracious appetite. He's a slender kid, but the workouts and schedule he maintains keep him hungry. His parents helped him choose wisely when they chose the dining hall meal plan providing for unlimited meals and in-between snacks at the campus dining halls.

For the most part, that dining choice has worked well. Ken can choose from among the three dining halls on campus, alternating his choices depending on what specials might be on the menu each day.

"Some of my friends don't like the food at some of the dining halls," Ken writes, "so we go together to eat where everyone likes the food."

All was going well for Ken, until he met his nemesis, let's call him Larry. Larry is the manager of the dining hall where Ken often eats lunch. If you're on the meal plan Ken's on, you can eat all you want in the dining hall, but the rules are that you cannot take food outside of the dining hall. Occasionally, Ken says he's grabbed an apple or two or some other snack on his way out of a dining hall and the managers at the two other dining halls never say anything. But Larry stops Ken each time and tells him he can't take food out of the dining hall. 

"I'm paying thousands of dollars to go here and he won't let me take an extra apple," Ken protests. "He also stopped me when I was eating an ice cream cone I had made after lunch."

Ken has always complied when Larry called him out. He writes that once when Larry confronted him about an apple in his hand, he tossed it in the trash before leaving, "just to make a point."

Who's right here, Ken wants to know. "Shouldn't I be able to eat without being hassled?"

Yes, of course, Ken should be able to eat without being hassled. But Larry is simply doing his job. That the rules are inconsistently enforced from one dining hall to the next shouldn't matter since Ken is obliged to follow the rules of the dining hall he's in at the time.

Throwing away an apple in protest is wasteful and likely did not have the effect of changing the situation for which Ken yearned. Eating the apple on the spot before he left would have been fine.

But Larry was wrong to call Ken on the ice cream cone he was midway through eating as he was leaving. If the policy is in place to keep students from taking food to use outside the dining hall rather than purchase their own food later, telling students they can't finish eating items they've already started to consume misses the spirit of the rule and achieves nothing aside from a bravado show of authority.

The right thing is for Larry to let Ken finish eating his ice cream cone in peace and for Ken to honor the rules Larry is charged with enforcing by not carrying uneaten food from the dining hall. Each of them deserves respect from one another, regardless of how agitated they become. 

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) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Should I post something when my social media group goes haywire?



Molly (let's call her that) works full-time for a small construction firm in the Northeast. Her husband, Desmond (also not the name he actually goes by) is a firefighter for their local fire department. They have two children, a third grader and a fifth grader, who attend the same school.

Molly and Desmond each regularly contribute their time to the school by supporting fundraising events and volunteering when the school puts out a call for parent volunteers for certain events. They've done this since their oldest child started school six years ago.

Recently, another group of parents started a social media site where parents can post information about the school, including notices of upcoming events, results of sporting events, or other news related to the school. The social media group is curated by a small group of parents who manage who gets to belong to the group and read the posts. People connected to the school who ask to join the group are rarely if ever denied access.

Molly regularly checks into the site because she often finds postings that are useful, whether it's the announcement of an upcoming bake sale, or news of one of the student's efforts to engage in a project supporting an area of the country recently hit by a hurricane. Desmond also belongs to the site, but rarely spends any time with it. In fact, Desmond rarely spends time with any social media, or the Internet at all.

A recent post to the social media group raised an issue with an effort that one of the other parents was undertaking at the school. A long discussion thread -- some agreeing with the post, others taking the poster to task -- followed.

Molly was incensed. "It seemed totally inappropriate for the site," she writes. "Some parents want to use the site to complain rather than to share information."

She was prepared to add to the discussion thread with a comment asking parents to remember the purpose of the site and to ask them to not turn it into a site for complaints and quarrels. She also planned to email the administrators of the site to ask them to take the post and discussion she found offensive down.

When she told Desmond of her plan, he urged her not to post anything. His concern, she writes, was that her request would have little effect and those engaged in the disagreement might "turn on her."

"Is it wrong not to post something if I really feel strongly about it?" she asks.

Molly needs to decide to do what Molly wants to do, regardless of what I or Desmond think. Do I believe that her comment will quell the masses rushing to disagree online? No. Social media sites have a way of taking on a life of their own. If the rules of engagement are not made clear or the site administrators don't do a rigorous enough job policing those who disregard those rules, the sites run the risk of becoming posts full of misinformation or rants.

The right thing, however, is for Molly to decide if she feels strongly enough to post a comment, even if it means she will become a focus of ire. Or she could simply decide to unjoin the social media group and, like Desmond, spend less time online. 

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) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Talking Politics Over Turkey

For those wrestling with how to have a civil discussion over a holiday meal, a discussion with HKS PolicyCast