Sunday, July 30, 2023

Should we pretend to be something to win others over?

My first fall in Boston after I’d moved there in 1978, from Bethany, West Virginia, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were locked in a playoff to see who would top the American League East standings and move on to play the Kansas City Royals for a shot at that year’s World Series against the National League title holder.

I had been to a few games at Fenway Park, one of the most beautiful professional baseball parks in America. Walking into the park remains a magical experience as soon as you walk up to your seats and the view of the field opens up before you.

Back then, the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918. This one-game playoff against the Yankees could be their shot at finally breaking their decades-long dry spell.

Alas, it was not to be. The Yankees led 2-0 in the seventh inning when Bucky Dent hit a three-run home run that proved to be the deciding factor in the Yankees moving on to battle the Royals.

My father had been a lifelong Yankees fan, and I was and am a lifelong Yankees fan after him. (I am in short company in my Boston-bred family.)

What does this have to with a column on ethics?

On that pre-internet, pre-social-media October day in 1978, Boston was abuzz about the game. In the office where I worked, someone brought in a small black-and-white television set for us to watch in between pretending to get any work done.

Now, here’s the ethics question I was facing.

As a lifelong Yankees fan, but also the newest employee at this Boston publishing company full of rabid Red Sox fans, do I make a big deal about being a Yankees fan and root loudly for my team? Do I pretend to be a Red Sox fan to fit in?

If I had been lucky enough to get bleacher tickets for the game, my conundrum might have been magnified, given that a Yankees fan could not expect a warm and fuzzy reception at such a critical game.

Ethically, pretending to be a Red Sox fan would have been wrong, even then, before I wrote about ethics. Lying is lying.

But there seemed no reason to be boisterous or obnoxious in my support for the Yankees. When Bucky Dent hit his home run, the crowd in the office was morose but also hopeful there was enough time for a comeback. There wasn’t.

I didn’t hide that I was a Yankees fan, but I didn’t chide my colleagues about their team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Yankees ultimately beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the 1978 World Series. Hiding what we believe or pretending to believe something we don’t to win favor with others doesn’t seem the right thing to do.

I didn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t, but I also didn’t express any joy in my colleague’s misery. I knew there would be the opportunity for a few future visits together to one of the most beautiful baseball parks in America.

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, emeritus, 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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