Monday, March 25, 2013

Reprimanding Adults

This weekend, I attended an Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) council meeting. It was lengthy but productive, and as we were packing up to go, I asked our vice-president @KitchenerD and the OLA director for their opinion on a digital/ethical question. They provided some thoughtful responses and suggested that I blog a bit about it.

In the news lately, a tweet sent by a person offended by a conversation overheard at a conference led to the firing of two people, including the person who made the tweet. The links above are for two separate news articles on the subject. I'm going to avoid the topic of sexism in the technology industry or using social media for shaming, but instead focus on this question: what do you do when a fellow adult is doing something you think is reprehensible and needs admonishing?

If it were a teacher with a student misbehaving, the response is easy - speak to them directly, tell the student to stop and/or point out the undesirable behavior. I think it's "easy" because there's a power equation at work; teachers have more clout than students and can discipline a student within reason without repercussions. (I say within reason because I've heard of stories of school staff getting hassled by parents for speaking to their offspring for minor corrections to major behaviour faux-pas.) The relationship usually allows for that sort of scolding. What if it is a fellow teacher acting inappropriately? Then, I guess it depends on your relationship with that teacher, what kind of response you provide and how the teacher receiving that message will react.

Now complicate things by making it between people who don't know each other well, or add technology into the mix, and things get messy. The woman who overhead the jokes could have turned around and addressed the two men directly - but would that be safe for her? Would it have made a difference if she made an accusation or asked for clarification? (That integrative thinking element of creating your mental modes based on your own interpretation of events might come into play here. For instance, I've joked about the word "dongle" before because I think it's a funny word. Could she have been mistaken in her understanding of the conversation?) There are no easy answers. Using social media to indirectly scold them for their indiscretion led to huge problems for everyone involved.

I dealt with a correspondent recently that addressed concerns to me in a very inappropriate way using the wrong forum for that sort of discussion. I deleted it and did not respond. The person later contacted me using a better tool with a slightly better tone. I answered respectfully but I yearned to discuss the initial incident with the individual.

"What will they learn from it?" my colleagues asked. "What purpose will it serve?"

In the end, I chose to let it go. I feel cowardly but I could not argue with the points my library friends made. What does that mean for our society? Are people afraid to chastise others in person or in public for conduct that is rude or insensitive? What are basic rules of conduct and how can we address it when they are broken? When should we reprimand our social equals? How can it be done in a way that won't lead to an escalation in conflict or the degradation of one of the people involved?

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