More Awkard Situations Confronted In Ethics Column
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Do you ever find yourself tongue-tied when somebody asks you something that is just none of their business, or expresses regret for something that frankly is not a problem? Those are just some of the questions our intrepid ethics advisors tackle in this month's "Now What Do I Do?" column in O, the Oprah Magazine. We check in on the column each month to get ideas for tackling everyday ethical questions. Joining us now is O Magazine columnist Jancee Dunn. She edits that "Now What Do I Do?" column. Also with us is Faith Salie, a member of the O Magazine ethics panel and the host of the Public Radio international program Fair Game. Welcome back, ladies, both of you.
Ms. JANCEE DUNN (Editor, "Now What Do I Do?" Column, O, The Oprah Magazine): Thanks, Michel. Let's tackle things.
Ms. FAITH SALIE (Radio Host, Fair Game): Good to be here.
MARTIN: OK. Jancee, there's some good questions this month. We're going to start with two that involve saying the wrong thing to mothers. First, we have a new mom who's 41, just had her fourth child, and people feel for whatever reason, that they can say some incredibly rude things to her like, so was he an accident, or guess you haven't figured out how this happens? Oh my goodness. So how did the panel advise her to respond?
Ms. DUNN: They advised a few different approaches. Anita Allen said pregnant women and new mothers bring out the stupid in us all, and often people don't know what to say. So just brush it off with a, you know, it's wonderful having a large family type of comment. And then two other panelists, Jack Marshall and Rudy Rasmus (ph) said to just smile and don't say a word, and that sort of highlights the fact that the person said something really rude. As Rudy said, never argue with a fool, people looking on won't know which one is the fool. So just smile at him and say nothing.
MARTIN: But Jancee, you said something, you pointed out something interesting, and in fact, I think Anita also said this in her response, which is something about pregnancy and new mothers just makes people feel that they can just come out of their mouth. Why do you think that is? And do you get a lot of questions from pregnant moms, new moms, saying, you know, why did somebody say this to me? What's going on with this?
Ms. DUNN: We get a ton of those sorts of questions. I mean, for whatever reason, it just seems to dissolve any sort of healthy boundaries between people. We get everything from pregnant women who have people touching their pregnant bellies, oh, you know, grabbing them and squeezing them and then, I know, I know. And then these sorts of questions, and even people with young children who've been adopted, people ask all sorts of thoughtless things. I don't know if they feel like it's kind of this universal human condition so they can chime with anything or what?
Ms. SALIE: This is Faith. I think it takes a village to insult people. Maybe that's what they think.
MARTIN: Well, Faith, next question to you. The next question's also about saying something off to a mother. Your letter writer spoke to a woman at a party who mentioned that her son had autism, and your reader told this woman I'm sorry. The mother was offended. She said there's nothing to be sorry about. Faith, what was your response to this?
Ms. SALIE: Well, first of all, this women had the best intentions to be sure, but the lesson learned here is, you know, if you bite your tongue when a virtual strange reveals something personal to you, you can't go wrong. You know, if you sort of have that all-purpose furrow brow, I'm really listening to you look, then you can't make any mistakes there. I mean that's kind of a glib way of putting it, but what it's really about is being present as a listener and not feeling like you need to fill in the blanks.
I think people's responses to us are often more about their own stories, you know, you tell someone you're getting a divorce and they say gosh, I hope you don't feel like a failure. And you're like, wow, that never occurred to me. Or you tell someone your in-laws are coming and they're like oh my God, and you say well, I really like my in-laws. So as listeners, we should be present for the other person and not insert our own mental narrative into our responses.
MARTIN: Jancee, what do the other panelists have to say?
Ms. DUNN: Well, you know, they all agree that the reader's intention was kind and that she didn't mean any harm. Jack Marshall, in particular, thought that I'm sorry is a perfectly acceptable response, but the other ones agreed with Faith in that you don't necessarily have to add your own commentary, you can ask a question. Rudy Rasmus, for instance, said simply ask how is he doing.
MARTIN: That makes sense. I see what you're saying because I'm thinking of a number of circumstances where this might apply. Let's say that you have a neighbor or a friend who you do not know very well who reveals that her teenager is having a baby. OK? And it could be, the response could be how wonderful, it could be are you OK, it could be - you know what I mean? You don't know what that circumstance represents, right?
Ms. SALIE: Oy.
MARTIN: What that information represents to that person. It could be that your friend or whatever was - or acquaintance, was relieved that this person made a positive choice in her view. You know what I mean? There's all kinds of responses, I see your point about that that you don't want to bring your stuff to it.
Ms. DUNN: This is Jancee. Switch over into a neutral question. Oh, when - when is she due?
MARTIN: Faith, there's another gender-related question in this month's column that has nothing to do with being a mom. A woman wrote in to say she was having trouble in her new job which involved supervising men in a sales office. She said she was getting a chilly response whether she was kind of tough, straightforward, or soft. She was kind of worried about being considered, well, you know, the B-word. What is your answer to this? You were kind of hardcore.
Ms. SALIE: I got to say, Michel, I was really surprised at the very nature of this question. I mean it seems like concern about being considered the B-word at work is a problem from 1988. It sounds to me like this poor woman is buried under the weight of her self-consciousness and her shoulder pads. She needs to fling them both off and be herself.
MARTIN: I don't know though. Jancee, help me out here. I have heard a number of women grapple with this question. What did - what did the rest of the panel have to say?
Ms. DUNN: Oh. I have two, and in terms of questions about the workplace, this is the absolute number one question, which surprised me.
Ms. SALIE: I was shocked.
Ms. DUNN: Yes. But it does come up an awful lot, and most of the panelists said it's better to be respected and liked, and the best person to be is your authentic self. Rudy Rasmus suggested maybe hiring a coach to help sharpen your management style, and Anita Allen said how about reading some books on management theory and studying the biographies of powerful successful women. But it is something that, you know, you could argue that women are a little more intuitive when it comes to their coworkers, and they tend to be more concerned about what people think. I mean that's a blanket statement, but it's what I hear from a lot of the readers.
MARTIN: Finally, there's a pet lovers question in this month's issue. A woman wanted to know why she can't bring her dog into a bakery. And we're talking about a little dog, presumably a cute little dog. Faith?
Ms. SALIE: Grr, that's me growling. Yes.
MARTIN: Bring it on, Faith.
Ms. SALIE: I hate this woman. I'm sorry. She's the same woman who brings 15 items in the 12 items or less lane. She's the woman who thinks it's OK if she talks on her cell phone on the treadmill at the gym. Look, the only type of critter that should be allowed in an eating establishment is one that helps you see, and her dog is not helping her see that she's being annoying and inconsiderate. You know, what's really behind this is entitlement, and this is when people think they are special and rules don't apply to them, and you know what? Everybody's special. Ask your mom and Jesus, everybody's special.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Jancee, just let me recover here. And Jancee, this leads to a question which I often ask which is why is this an ethical question as opposed to a question of etiquette?
Ms. DUNN: Well, I think that when it comes down to an ethical question, is in that moment that you decide to act, that you decide to confront someone or not, that you decide to live and let live or not, and in this case, you know, this dog owner is not being empathetic and thinking of what this restaurant owner goes through and how, you know, with this rise of people that carry their little dogs around, this must happen to the owner a thousand times a day. I mean I go to these kinds of establishments all the time and there's - there's always some little critter peeking out of someone's purse, and when you have your own needs that kind of supersede everyone else's, that's when you've made some sort of decision and that's I think where the ethical debate lies.
MARTIN: Jancee Dunn writes the ethics column "Now What Do I Do?" for O, the Oprah Magazine. And Faith Salie is a member of the O Magazine Ethics Panel. They both joined us from NPR's New York bureau. Thank you both.
Ms. SALIE: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. DUNN: Thank you.
(Soundbite of song "Walk the Dog")
Mr. RUFUS THOMAS: (Singing) Baby back, dressed in black. Silver buttons all down her back. I know tipsy toe, she broke a needle and she can't sew. Walking the dog.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.