Sunday, January 09, 2022

Looking back at another year of doing the right thing

A year ago, at the end of 2020, after looking at the analytics for the website where The Right Thing column gets posted after it has run in publications, it was clear that readers were drawn most to columns that touched on kindness, remembering those we’ve lost, and thankfulness.

Although many of us managed to return to school or work on-site during 2021, the year has proved just as unpredictable as its predecessor. Many people received vaccinations and booster shots. Trips to stores and restaurants seemed to increase. The new Spiderman movie killed it at the box office. But we also headed into a holiday season in late December when the Omicron variety of COVID began to spread rapidly. Travel warnings increased, availability of at-home COVID-testing kits became limited, and pandemic anxieties intensified.

Nevertheless, the column’s readers viewed the most were decidedly different. Although a few referred to us remaining in a pandemic, none were about the pandemic specifically. Instead, the five most-viewed columns in 2021 touched on job searches, neighbor relationships, and the importance of learning to listen to people without overreacting. In other words, although many of the columns I wrote during the past year covered pandemic-related questions and issues, readers seemed to return to an interest in those issues that attracted them in pre-pandemic times.

The fifth-most-viewed column, “Don’t rely on ‘fake it until you make it,’” ran in mid-August. It focused on a reader who was in the midst of a job search who seemed willing to take any job offered by embracing the idea of faking it until she knew how to do the work. I cautioned against faking or fabricating anything but instead looking for guidance and mentorship wherever possible.

The fourth-most-viewed column, “Two recycling stories and one good neighbor,” ran in late July and focused on one reader who was troubled that neighbors took advantage of his agreeing to let them use his recycling bin since theirs was full. It also featured another reader who offered to turn off neighbors’ irrigation system when they were away. Not every good deed goes well, but neighbors should learn to appreciate when the person next door does them a good turn.

My July 4 column, “Must we write every recommendation letter we are asked to write?” responded to the question in the title with a resounding “no.”

July 11′s “Objecting instead of invoking morality is the right thing to do” reminded readers that not everything we disagree with rises to the level of immoral. Sometimes, it’s good to remember, we just see things differently.

Finally, in the most-viewed column of the year, “Learning to ask the right questions is always the right thing,” I wrote in June of the importance of listening to people and asking them questions in a way that gets at what matters without sounding accusatory or judgmental. It was a lesson I had learned after serving as my wife’s in-house technology support when each of us was still working from home.

Thank you, as always, for continuing to email me your questions, stories, and reactions for The Right Thing column. May your year continue to be full of doing the right thing while surrounded by those in your life who choose to do the same.

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, a blog focused on ethical issues.

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

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.


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