Sunday, July 03, 2022

Seek the right questions to ask before assuming you have the best answer

 A former editor of my column once suggested I regularly step back and tell readers what informs how I think about ethical issues I write about (in 24 years you cross paths with many good editors). My sense is that he believed such disclosures would provide a certain level of transparency with readers about who I am and how I think about stuff. Gayden was always a strong, supportive editor who is largely responsible for me writing The Right Thing column as long as I have even though he has not been my editor in more than a decade.

 

Occasionally, I have mentioned in the column that sometimes when people find others to be unethical it results from coming at ethical decisions from different approaches to ethical thinking. One group might embrace a rules-based approach to ethics where the belief is that if a rule can’t be applied equally to everyone, it’s not ethical. Others might adhere to more of a utilitarian view, seeking the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It’s clear that people belonging to either camp might find the other viewpoint to fall short of what they believe to be ethical behavior. Sometimes when we disagree with others it’s not because they are unethical. It’s that they view the world differently.

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we have experienced events that have resulted in many people searching for answers about issues they view quite differently. These events were preceded by a couple of years of the pandemic regularly placing us into unknown territory when it comes to seeking answers about how to stay healthy, show concern for the health of those around us and adapt to new ways to continue staying connected.

 

The past couple of weeks of reports of mass shootings, Congressional response to gun control, Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gun ownership and reproductive rights have elevated a collective search for answers that is increasingly loud and varied. A regular scan of social media suggests that many people believe they have the precise answers that might make some sense of all these events and affect a desired change.

 

In his most recent novel, Yonder, former colleague Jabari Asim writes beautifully and often harrowingly about the plight of several enslaved people (whom he refers to as “Stolen” in his book) on a plantation in 1852. In one scene from the book, one of the Stolen, named William, is speaking to another named Ransom, who is a Black preacher.

 

“You’re supposed to have all the answers,” William says after finding Ransom’s advice wanting. Ransom chuckles and responds: “I don’t even have all the questions.”

 

Answers such as term limits for legislators and Supreme Court justices may prove fruitful in the long run, but they will not result in immediate relief from many of the issues people are facing. Recommending short-term solutions to address the challenges that lie ahead also seems sound.

 

But at times when so much is in flux and the stakes seem high for so many, it strikes me that the right thing is to continue to try to find the right questions to ask before we assume we have the right answers. Only then can we hope to find some reasonable way to help protect those with whom we live.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Are anonymous comments on websites OK?

Should people who post comments on websites be allowed to be anonymous?

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a column focusing on an email from a reader I called Lil. She was seeking advice on what to do, if anything, after noticing a landscaper working on several luxury condominiums in her neighborhood had attached a hose to a public fire hydrant so he could water the newly laid sod in the front yard of the condos.

 

My advice was fairly straightforward and mostly involved checking with her city’s public works department to make sure the landscaper had permission to use the water. Her city happened to have a 311 number to call or an app to use to file such questions.

 

The online reader response to the column came swiftly. Some commenters agreed with Lil’s concern. Others suggested that perhaps the landscaper had permission and a temporary meter had been attached to the hydrant. But it was other commenters that led Lil to get back in touch and ask if I agreed with their assessment that she should mind her own business. One wrote “you go, Karen” using the in-vogue name used to describe people who are perceived to be do-gooders who get righteously indignant over petty issues. (Apologies to Karens everywhere.)

 

It’s not irrelevant that the commenters were not required to use their own names, and most hid behind an anonymous and sometimes goofy moniker. On some websites you can click on these names and see how many posts they’ve made on articles on the site so far. (The “you go, Karen” commenter had made 1,191 comments in seven months.)

 

I’ve written about allowing anonymous website comments before. I’m not a fan of anonymous posts online. The anonymity itself does not concern me. Readers might have any number of legitimate reasons to not want their names made public to a large readership. I still believe it shows more integrity to put your name behind the stands you take, but it remains an individual’s choice whether to do so or not on many sites, including the one I keep that’s associated with this column.

 

It seems wrong to allow anonymous comments if the commenter is using anonymity to avoid responsibility for being offensive, obnoxious, name-calling or shaming. Since many sites, including the one on which Lil saw herself told to mind her own business, allow readers to see other comments a poster has made, it seems relatively simple for the owner of the website to assess whether a commenter has a pattern of abusive comments. If they do, the site should consider removing the offensive comments or restricting the poster after making clear what crossed the line.

 

The website featuring Lil’s question also allows readers to “report” commenters for spam, profanity, abuse or harassment, misinformation, violence, inappropriateness and several other categories. If Lil believes any of the anonymous commenters fall into any of the categories, the right thing is for Lil or any reader believing similarly to report them. And the right thing for the website moderators is to take any such reports seriously even if it means losing a voluminous poster of anonymous and sometimes offensive reactions.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

How much should I disclose to future employer?

 How fully do you need to disclose information about yourself to a prospective employer?

 

A reader we’re calling Mary posed the question to me after she interviewed for a job via Zoom and was called back for a second interview in person. She wrote that she wants the job, but she is concerned that if she fully discloses health challenges she’s had in the past, it might affect her chances of landing the new job.

 

This is the point in my response when I feel obliged to disclose I am not an employment lawyer, nor an expert in employment law. But judging from her question, Mary knows these limitations and in posing her question to me was more concerned about how forthcoming she needed to be from an ethical perspective.

 

“Would it be dishonest not to tell them that I’d gone through some serious health issues in the past?” asked Mary.

 

If the job for which Mary is applying requires some physical qualifications such as the ability to lift objects of a certain weight and Mary knows she is not capable of meeting these qualifications, she should disclose the limitations to her prospective employer regardless of past illnesses. If the advertisement for the job or job description she might have seen included specific qualifications she knew she didn’t meet, Mary should have considered not applying.

 

But unless Mary’s health issues pose a danger to her prospective colleagues, it’s not clear to me why it should come up in the process of her job interview.

 

She raised a slightly different question when Mary said: “I’m worried that if I get sick again and it comes out that I had been sick before that my bosses would be upset that I hadn’t told them that I had been sick in the past.”

 

Here Mary seems to be concerned she must anticipate and disclose any future event that may have a negative impact on her ability to do the job for which she’s applying. If the health issues she experienced were indeed in the past, it doesn’t seem necessary for Mary to supply a list of everything that may or may not happen to her should she take the job. An employer is unlikely to tell Mary that while the company is financially healthy now, its business might take a nose dive later because, after all, in the early days of the company it was touch and go about whether the company would be able to stay in business.

 

Many things may happen in the future if Mary is offered and accepts the new job. Her old car might break down on her drive to work one day and she could be late and hold up an important meeting. The company might be purchased and layoffs might ensue. We can contemplate all the possible downsides as applicants and employers. But it’s also possible Mary might thrive in the new position and the company will survive and thrive in spite of any obstacles it faces.

 

In interviewing for the job, the right thing is for Mary to be honest about her capabilities to do the job and for her interviewers to be honest about the specifics of the job for which she is interviewing.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.