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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Should I agree with my uncle's politics to make him stop talking?



When he was eight years old, my oldest grandson, Evan, asked if each of us gathered around the table for Thanksgiving could say something we were thankful for or to sing a song. We were in the middle of eating at the time, so the request came kind of randomly, yet we obliged. One by one, we expressed thanks or sang a short tune.

In the U.S., Thanksgiving tends to kick off a season of family gatherings. While it is always an issue, given the particularly contentious presidential election that just ended, I have received more than the usual number of questions about the right way to talk with family about politics when thrust around the same dinner table. The questions come with even more vigor from those who know they are about to break bread with some loved ones whose views run quite counter to their own.

A reader from Massachusetts wrote that he and his partner were specifically asked ahead of time not to talk about politics at a dinner to which they were invited. The host mentioned she knew that family at the dinner had strong, yet opposing, political viewpoints. She preferred such potentially difficult conversations not be brought up over dinner. "What should we do if politics do arise?" the reader asks.

I ascribe to the notion that the host gets to set the rules. If it's tradition or a request that no politics (or some other topic that might prove heated or, in some cases inappropriate) be discussed at the dinner table, the right thing to do is to honor the host or the tradition.

But a tougher question facing many is what to do if there are no established rules. What if someone around the table states a political position with which you disagree? Should you sit quietly? Verbally support that person's view to avoid unpleasantries? Nod in agreement? Flee the premises?

There's no ethical upside to pretending to hold a position that you don't simply to appease another guest. If the discussion is indeed a discussion, then it's perfectly appropriate to offer a different viewpoint if you have one. Fleeing is generally a poor option, particularly if you're enjoying your meal.

But offering a different viewpoint is different from trying to convert your dinner guest to thinking like you do. If you go into a discussion believing that your goal is to convert those to think like you do, it's unlikely you'll succeed. A good discussion involves as much listening as it does talking. And it's important to gauge others at the table to make sure any discussion doesn't make them uncomfortable or simply bore them.

At family gatherings, we know the people and we know the traditions. The right thing is to honor the same traditions we've always honored, not to pretend to hold views we don't simply to keep the peace, and respect those with whom we're talking.

It's also good to remember that politics isn't the only thing families and friends talk about. We talk about our kids, our work, our hobbies -- any number of things that don't require taking a particular side.

When all else fails, suggesting that each person at the table take turns expressing their thanks for something or breaking into song might not be a bad option. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Must I tell a Facebook friend I dumped him?



Lots of people are using social media. If you believe the reports, Facebook now has 1.79 billion, WhatsApp has 500 million, LinkedIn has 467 million, Twitter has 284 million, and Instagram has 200 million monthly active users.

On each of these sites, users build a network of friends, contacts, or followers who can see whatever they choose to share on their accounts. Likewise, users can see on their own feeds whatever their friends, contacts, or followers choose to post on their own accounts.

While on some social media platforms it's possible to adjust settings so that you remain friends but not see everything everyone else posts on your own feed, some users grow weary when those in their network are overzealous in their postings. Too many photos of what they ate for lunch, or videos of perky cats dancing to Bruce Springsteen songs, or articles about political candidates they loathe or love can push some social media users to want to remove someone from their network or, if their posts have been perceived to be offensive, to block them.

A reader, let's call him Joe, recently decided that he'd had enough of a friend of his posting suspect news articles to Facebook and chose to unfriend him. "He was a Facebook friend," Joe says, "not a friend friend."

Unfriending someone on Facebook is as simple as clicking a couple of buttons. The unfriended doesn't receive any notification he's been dumped. The only way the friend could discover this is if he notices he's not seeing posts from Joe on his own Facebook feed anymore, or if he goes to Joe's profile page and notices that they are no longer identified as friends.

"Is it wrong for me to have dumped him without telling him?" Joe asks. "If his posts were enough to make me not want to be connected to him anymore, should I feel obligated to tell him that's why I unfriended him?"

Many social media users regularly clean their lists of friends, contacts, or followers. Sometimes they do this because they no longer have a desire to see whatever those people post. Sometimes, they simply can't remember who the person is or why they are connected to begin with.

While Joe's Facebook friend might be hurt or surprised that he and Joe are no longer friends, Joe is under no obligation to tell him or anyone else on his social media networks if he decides to sever ties.

If Joe (or you) are so offended by something someone in your network posts that you believe it's important to take a stand and let him know that you found a post offensive, then by all means, take that stand. But if you've simply tired of seeing posts of a particular type and relegating that person to those to whom you are still connected but who don't show up on your feed doesn't feel like enough, then you have every right to dump them while feeling no remorse for doing so.

It's up to each of us to decide just how social we want to be on social media and with whom we want to be social. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.