Sunday, July 14, 2019

Be thoughtful about what you post, reach out to those who are hurting

Years ago, I suggested to one of my relatives that she might want to rethink her Facebook profile picture. She was about to graduate from college, had started interviewing for jobs and had a Facebook profile picture that suggested she liked to party extensively.

Her public profile picture was available for everyone to see, even prospective employers. She changed her profile photo.

A few years later after a mass shooting incident in the United States, I noticed that another relative's Facebook profile photo was of her holding a handgun in preparation for shooting. She was not a gun owner, nor an avid hunter. My understanding is that a friend had taken her target shooting and she liked the photo.

After the mass shooting, I mentioned to her that her photo might be sending a message she didn't intend. Because she has posted it long before this mass shooting, I wanted to remind her it was up there. She changed her profile picture.

Both of these cases remind me that many of us give far too little thought to the things we post publicly on social media. It's too simple to forget there are people who see or read our posts and might be affected by them. Setting a post so it appears only to selected friends doesn't ensure that one of those friends might decide to share our posts more widely.

Granted, it can be fun to live vicariously through a friend's posts when he travels or experiences one of life's milestones. But it's not as much fun when a colleague posts a long note on Facebook about how horrendous things are at work, cites specific people and experiences and expresses a level of frustration that borders on hopelessness.

What is the right thing to do when you are on Facebook or another social media site and you find a colleague's anguished post on your newsfeed because a mutual friend commented on it even though you're not a Facebook friend of the poster? If you comment directly on the post, you might fear coming off as a bit of a stalker because you are not Facebook friends with the poster.

If you don't post a sympathetic response, you might worry the poster will feel even more isolated than his or her post suggests. You also don't particularly want to commiserate publicly about your workplace because his or her issues with the company are not yours.

If you fear the poster is in danger to himself or herself, the right thing is to reach out to him or her or to someone else who might check on his or her safety. This doesn't need to be online, but rather can be through a direct call, text, email or, even better, in person.

Too often people forget when using social media just how magnified or misinterpreted their photos or posts can become. The right thing for each of us is to be a bit more thoughtful about what we post. In those moments when social media is used as a genuine cry for help, it's best to find a way for you or someone more qualified to respond to that call. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, July 07, 2019

Was reader wrong to disclose an aunt's secret?

A reader we're calling Josh had never been particularly close to his parents relatives. As a kid, Josh's family had moved around quite a bit and while he knew his various cousins, it had been at least a decade since he had seen any of them.

Josh was surprised when he received an email from his cousin's daughter asking if he would have time to meet with her (let's call her Mavis) when she was visiting town to look at prospective colleges to attend in the fall. Josh had met her only once when she was 10 or 11 years old. Mavis hoped Josh might be able to meet and to talk about the city a bit when she visited.

As it turned out, Josh's office was not far from one of the prospective college's downtown campus. They agreed to meet at the admissions office after her tour and then go to grab lunch.

The only concern Josh had was whether he would be able to answer any questions Mavis might have about the extended family. Josh didn't know much, but he did know that his aunt, his cousin's mother, had once asked Josh not to mention to her son that she and Josh's father had been brought up in the Jewish faith, as had Josh. Josh was a kid when his aunt had mentioned this and while he found it odd, it didn't present that much of a challenge since he rarely saw his cousin.

Mavis and Josh met as arranged and headed over to a local lunch place where Josh was taking her to eat. Most of the conversation focused on the city and on her college search, but as the meal went on, Mavis said about Josh's aunt: "Grandma has mentioned that that part of our family is French, but she is vague about any other details. Are we French?"

"No," Josh responded. "We're not French."

"Do you know what we are?" Mavis asked.

"Your grandmother's and my father's parents came to the United States from Russia after they were asked to leave," he responded.

Mavis seemed to ponder Josh's response before asking, "You mean we're Jewish?"

"Well, I am and my father was and at one time your grandmother was," he responded. "But my understanding is that you were raised in your mother's faith."

"Whoa," Mavis responded. Then added, "How cool."

Nothing further was said about the issue, Josh writes. But he wonders if he was wrong to be honest with Mavis about an issue which years ago his grandmother had asked him not to mention to Mavis's father.

I'm not sure what Josh's aunt's motives were for not wanting her son to know about her faith growing up. But Josh had no obligation to be dishonest about his own faith when asked. As a kid, Josh honored his aunt's wishes and never brought it up. But he did the right thing by answering Mavis's question honestly.

As an adult, Mavis can do whatever she deems appropriate with Josh's honest answer. That she responded the way she did suggests she will be just fine knowing the truth about her ancestors even if she continues to practice a different faith from them. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to