Sunday, November 26, 2017

When bad toys happen to good organizations



It's never too early in the holiday season to start worrying.

On Nov. 14, World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc.(W.A.T.C.H.) revealed the 10 nominees for its annual worst toy list when it comes to presenting a hazard for children. Including such items as a Wonder Woman sword, this might cause "blunt force injuries" or a fidget spinner, which might present choking injuries. The list is regularly announced in time to give holiday shoppers a heads up on how to avoid buying gifts for children that run the risk of bringing them as much pain as joy.

These are toys that, according to W.A.T.C.H. "should not be in the hands of children."

The Toy Association (toyassociation.org) told the Associated Press that W.A.T.C.H.'s list was "needlessly frightening" to parents "because all toys sold in the United States meet rigorous safety standards." The Toy Association also took issue with the fact that W.A.T.C.H. did not actually "test the toys it focuses on."

But W.A.T.C.H. stands behind its list.

B.C., a reader in Boston, where W.A.T.C.H. is headquartered, writes that she appreciates the efforts to identify potentially dangerous toys before the gift-giving season. She works for a social services agency, which stages an annual toy drive for children in need of holiday gifts. Knowing what toys might present a hazard is useful to her group, she says.

Still, B. C. finds herself in a quandary. "We solicit and accept toy donations for a couple of months leading up to the holiday," she writes. "We're grateful for the generosity of donors who help to make sure that the children we serve are not disappointed. But if we receive one of the 10 toys on W.A.T.C.H.'s list, what's the right thing to do?"

If B.C. and her group have found W.A.T.C.H.'s list to be a useful guide in the types of toys to avoid giving children, then it should certainly refer to it when it starts doling out the donated toys to children. But occasionally, her agency receives some donations before W.A.T.C.H.'s new list comes out. If the agency ends up receiving gifts on W.A.T.C.H.'s list, it should stick with its policy of using the list as a guide and refrain from distributing those gifts.

Even if the agency doesn't have the current list, the right thing would be for it to create a list of W.A.T.C.H.'s dangerous toys from past years and include those in the material it sends out requesting toy donations. It can also indicate that it will use the new list as a guide when it is issued.

What B.C.'s group might also do, if it doesn't already, is to list for potential toy donors the types of toys that generally present a hazard for children, whether that includes small parts that present a choking hazard or weapon-like toys that present a bludgeoning hazard.

If a toy or two on W.A.T.C.H.'s list does find its way to B.C.'s agency, it can simply be set aside. There's no reason to chide the donor for donating something that could choke or otherwise harm a child. If all it receives this year are Nerf Zombie Strike Deadbolt Crossbows, B.C. and colleagues might have to bring their toy drive back from the dead by digging a little deeper for donations. 

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.


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.


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