Sunday, January 07, 2024

Looking back at another year of doing the right thing

A year ago, at the end of 2022, 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 neighborly activity, appropriate levels of criticism and paying college students for the work they do.

In 2023, the top six viewed columns focused on leaving jobs gracefully, maintaining privacy after death, showing gratitude in tough times and learning how to support children without doing their work for them.

The sixth-most-viewed column, “If I don’t like my boss, should I flee?” ran in mid-February. In it I wrote that ultimately, the right thing to do if you don’t like your boss is not to flee the premises in search of new opportunities – although that’s sometimes an option – but instead to ask yourself just how much whatever we don’t like about the boss affects whether you can do the work you’d like to do.

The fifth-most-viewed column, “Parents should support but not do a child’s homework for them,” ran in early April. I wrote then and believe now that it is totally appropriate for parents to help a child with schoolwork as vigorously and supportively as they can, but to stop short of doing the work for them.

My Feb. 12 column, “Gratitude after a terrible week,” was in response to some particularly challenging events that my family was facing and the observation that we often don’t know what challenges others are facing. I borrowed some words that Oliver Sacks wrote when he was facing death: “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”

June 4’s column, “How much privacy are we owed in death?” concluded that it was ultimately up to the chosen recipient of a deceased family member’s letters to decide how much, if anything, to disclose to others about what was in those letters.

On July 9, I wrote in “Keep the pearls, lose the rest” about when it was time to let go of old documents expressing anger or disappointment. I resolved to try to embrace the advice of an old friend who pointed out that this is what shredders are for. “Try to dwell on the bright moments of the past,” he wrote and shred whatever irritates.

Finally, by far the most viewed Right Thing column of the year was June’s “Choosing to say goodbye with a book.” As I was packing up my office to shift to emeritus status and move into different digs, I offered any book from my shelves that a visiting student might want. On a practical level, it meant less stuff to move. But it also meant that former students could have another little piece of my heart in book form.

Thank you, as always, for continuing to email 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, 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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