Sunday, October 28, 2018

When friends don't want friends to talk politics


"I can't talk to my neighbor," says "Bart," a reader.

At first, Bart and his neighbor, "Mel," were friendly. They talked sports. They shared opinions about new construction going on in their small town. Occasionally, they even borrowed tools from one another, each of them dutifully returning them in pristine condition.

But over the decade or so they've known each other, it became clear that Bart and Mel didn't have much common ground when it came to politics or how they chose to express their opinions on politics. Bart rarely broadcast his political opinions to anyone. But Mel regularly staked campaign signs on his front lawn and bumper sticks on his car's bumper.

The signs and bumper stickers didn't bother Bart (too much) and, early on, he and Mel never discussed them, the candidates they represented, or the views the candidates held. But things shifted a couple of years ago, Bart writes.

"He wouldn't stop talking about politics," Bart says. "And he'd get worked up and angry and was always talking about political stuff."

Bart now believes he can't be around Mel because he finds it too aggravating. "Some of the stuff he believes I think is just stupid," says Bart. "I don't think he has any idea that I don't agree with him on any of his politics."

Nevertheless, Bart still likes Mel and remembers how much he enjoyed having a neighbor with whom he could just shoot the breeze or borrow an occasional tool.

Bart wants to know if he is wrong to avoid Mel because he doesn't want to listen to him talk about politics any more.

Bart, and any of us, are free to choose to avoid anyone we want to avoid for any reason, as long as we don't cause harm to them in the process.

But from Bart's revelation that Mel has no idea what his political views are, it seems like Bart might not be giving Mel the opportunity to be a bit more sensitive with his vocal outpourings. If Mel doesn't know that his commentary causes Bart discomfort, then Bart has no idea if their friendship can return to focus on the stuff they each enjoy discussing.

Bart doesn't need to get into an argument with Mel. Nor does he need to reveal his own political leanings if he doesn't want to. But a first move before avoiding Mel altogether might be for Bart to simply tell him that talking about politics makes him uncomfortable and he'd rather not.

If nevertheless Mel persists, then Bart's decision to avoid Mel or limit the time around him seems a more reasonable decision. Bart may ultimately decide that he finds Mel's political views so offensive that he chooses not to associate with him at all. But right now, he simply doesn't want to have his neighbor talk politics with him. Sports, town activities, the proper way to winterize a lawn mower, yes. Politics, no.

If he'd like to maintain the friendship, the first thing Bart might do is to give Mel the benefit of the doubt that he will listen to Bart and honor his request. That's what friends 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. 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.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

To combat fake news, try to correct it when you see it


During the second week of September, I started to receive messages from former students, colleagues and friends letting me know that an old video of me was making the rounds as part of an online article about the top 10 colleges for writers in 2018. When I went to the link they'd included in their messages, I scrolled through the post, which listed the best colleges in reverse order. There's no indication how the list was determined.

Kenyon College clocked in as the ninth best college for writing and was accompanied by a video of one of its alumni, the writer John Green extolling the virtues of the place. At No. 6, Emory University, a video of Associate Professor Jericho Brown's TEDx Emory talk on the art of words leads the entry. And there, sure enough, right atop the entry for Emerson College, what the writer of the piece indicated was the No. 1 college for writing in the United States, was a 2 minute, 10 second video of me posted eight years ago to YouTube.

While John Green was mentioned in the write-up for Kenyon, neither Professor Brown nor I were in the write-ups for Emerson. It appeared that the writer or an editor had scoured the web for videos after the piece itself was written. Fair enough.

But while Professor Brown appears to still be on thefaculty of Emory, I left Emerson in August 2011, something that the writer and editor could easily have known if they'd checked the online directory or faculty listings for Emerson.

There's nothing I say in the video that I still don't believe. Emerson was a great place to teach and it still does have a unique writing, literature and publishing department. It's hardly likely that any reader of the piece would choose to attend Emerson because I happened to speak to them through their computer or smartphone as they read the list. It's equally unlikely that riches will befall me because any viewers mistakenly think I'm still affiliated with what the site deems to be the best in the land.

But to any viewer of the video, it appears I'm still on the faculty there, and that would be incorrect.

I didn't post the video nor did I write the article, but when we find information about us that isn't accurate, even if it presents us in a good light, do we have an obligation to try to correct it?

I believe it's the right thing to do. And I believe the writer or editor has the obligation to correct the error and ideally run a note indicating that the piece had been corrected.

The day after I saw the piece, almost a month ago now, I emailed the writer of the post thanking her for including Emerson on her top 10 list but letting her know that I hadn't taught at Emerson for going on eight years. I never heard back, and as I write this column, the video still remains on an article that's been shared 711 times.

If we want to read accurate information, then we have an obligation to let providers of that information know when they got something wrong. 

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.



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