Sunday, May 24, 2020

House rules still apply to college students housebound because of coronavirus


It happened a bit earlier this year than planned. Typically, after the spring semester of college ends, thousands of students return home to spend the summer living in their parents' homes. For many, it's the home they grew up in. Often when they walk through their bedroom doors, while the space may have been converted for slightly different uses in their absence,  it's as if time stood still.

This year, however, the mass migration home took an unexpected turn. Rather than the end of May, carloads of college students and their belongings headed home in mid-March. Concerned over the spread of coronavirus, college campuses shuttered and a majority of students were sent home to complete their courses online.

When there's a re-entry into a parents' home after a college student has been away, there's often a clash between how the student was able to behave on campus and the house rules still in place. A child may have gained some independence while off at school, but the phrase, "our house, our rules" seems on constant rotation.

Typically, re-acclimating involves such banal tasks as picking up dirty clothes, not staying out past a particular hour, or not leaving dirty dishes or half-eaten sandwiches around the house. It can take a few days to sort things out and reach a clear understanding. A parent needs to assert that while they appreciate their child's independence and that their child is an adult, they still expect them to respect the house rules.

But this year adds a twist. Many communities have instituted advisories or directives about wearing face masks in public or while shopping as well as making sure to be at least six feet away from other individuals.

In the communities where the advisories are not binding and it's left up to the individual to comply, there can be a rift between people choosing not to wear face masks when running on a somewhat crowded path and those strictly adhering to the advisory. When such a difference of opinion occurs between a parent and a college student home while school is shut down, the student might remind the parent that he still follows the rules at home even if he chooses not to wear a mask in public.

"I'm not in the house when I do this," the student might say.

It's fair for the college student to choose how to behave in public as long as he is not breaking the law or putting someone else's life in danger. (The latter of these seems to depend on how close he gets to others if not wearing a mask.) But if the student risks exposing himself to the virus because of his behavior outside of the house, then he risks exposing his parents and other family members as well. If his parents are uncomfortable with this, their rules apply and the right thing is for their college student to comply with house rules and wear a mask in public even though technically he isn't inside their house when following the rule.

Life is short. There are plenty of things to argue over with parents. If this one is important to them, let it go. 

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.  

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Our stories keep loved one's memories alive

s
Santiago, Chile. December 1962.


Death of a loved one can be quite a personal thing for those who survive. To make meaning of someone else's life, we tend to remember that person through our own lens. We default to telling that person's story by focusing on his life only as it touched our own.

In so doing, we are telling our own story as much as the story of the one we loved.

I chose the pronoun "his" deliberately. Two days ago, as I write this column, my father, 91, died peacefully in his sleep in his assisted living apartment in Minnesota. As we scurry to plan a virtual memorial service, we also search for ways to grieve his loss. I joke with my daughter that partly I grieve by taking a half day to repair the rot on a piece of outside trim at my house.

"My dad would want me to take care of this," I say, but the truth is that the work gives me a few precious moments to focus on my father's life and my memories of life with him.

"Death steals everything except our stories," Jim Harrison wrote in his poem "Larson's Holstein Bull."

So, to grieve and to celebrate a person's life, we tell stories upon their death. Our challenge is to ensure that in our effort to remember, we don't lose sight that that person's life extended far beyond his connection to us.

We will never know the full details of all anyone experienced during his or her life.

In my father's case, we have his stories of being a foster child in Brooklyn, New York, separated from his mother and three siblings shortly after the Depression. Or of the track meets he won in high school in spite of having to practice early in the mornings before school because he had to work each day after school during traditional practice. We remember the stories of working on a farm upstate each summer and the family who took him in, a family he introduced us to years later after he'd married and started a family of his own.

We have his diplomas, his books, his track meet clippings, his photos from the field when he mapped soils as an agronomist. Through these, we think we get a sense of what he found important enough to save, a sight he found important enough to capture.

We notice his copy of "Don Quixote" and of the small bronze statue of Miguel de Cervantes he kept on his bookcase for as long as we can remember and we recall what Cervantes wrote about the love a father has for a child - that it "puts a blindfold over his eyes" so he can forgive his child's defects and celebrate his charm, intelligence, wit.

My father might have examined my wood rot repair carefully. Like anyone else, he would have noticed my imperfect work, but he would have nodded thoughtfully, uttered "not bad" and I might have felt a moment of triumph.

No matter how we try, it's our own stories that keep a loved one's memories alive. When loss hits with such a palpable crush and creates a void that in the moment feels impossible to fill, that seems the right thing do. 

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. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.