Friday, December 16, 2011


So I got in a little Facebook argument the other day. If you know me you know how odd that statement is. I generally limit my comments on people's FB posts to clicking 'like' (actually I click 'j'aime', as I have my FB page set to French) or saying things like "cool" "nice pic" "congratulations." Original, I know. But this time, I made a comment - a real comment.

The post was by a friend who is actually a former student. His political views and mine are far apart and it's something that we good-naturedly joke about pretty regularly. Every now and then I try to remind him that he is to use his power for good and not for evil. He doesn't listen.

But this time I commented and criticized - and I was serious. He posted a link to an article and in his post he said "this person CLAIMS..." So, I followed the link and read the article. That person did not claim.

He was referencing an article that is on the extreme side - I'd call it one of those pieces that is designed to be inflammatory. My friend said "He claims if X happens, then Y WILL happen." That's not what the author said. The author said if X happens, then Y CAN happen." Those are different statements.

So, I called my friend on this. Specifically I said, "this is the type of comment that I would nail you for if you did it in a paper or in a speech. Go back and read again. He does not claim that this WILL happen. Twisting the actual words of others to make your point is cheap and inflammatory. It's something we discussed in the basic Public Speaking class under Rules of Evidence and the Ethics of using evidence to prove your point." If you're going to quote, do it accurately.

That comment seems to have started quite an argument - with my friend and also with another poster who commented. She defended my friend saying that he was not misquoting, that those words had been used in the article. He was misquoting. Yes, those words were used in the article - but they were not used in the order in which he claimed they were - hence 'misquoting.' He was giving his interpretation of the author's intent based upon those words - perhaps accurate, perhaps not.

While I may not disagree with the conclusion my friend came to, I do disagree with the way he presented his point. It's easy to take another person's words and twist them to mean what we want them to. We repeat part of what someone says, leaving out or adding in a significant word or two and we put it out there as being what the person actually said. I'm sure we all do it on occasion.

But just because we all do it now and then or at least understand why people would want to, doesn't make it the right thing to do. If people are saying something stupid - the stupidity will shine through. We don't have to twist their words and claim that they said things they didn't say. When you misquote and misrepresent what people say, you weaken your own point and leave yourself open to charges of being dishonest and unethical.

One of the comments the other poster made was to my friend was to say "thank you for having the courage to call out such high brow crap as this. Hitler’s adage “Make the lie big, keep telling it, and people will believe it” is as true today as it was back then. This rabbi gets the award for most incendiary, divisive, and intellectually dishonest article of the year. We have a moral obligation to call out these lies, not just sit back and just 'dismiss.'"

I laughed out loud when I read her post. I find her reaction - and my friend's as well -- as being absolutely over the top. They are crediting this writer with far more influence than he deserves and they are making far more out of this article than it merits. Really - the majority of thinking people who read this will dismiss it as the rantings of a nut. I could post links to at least a hundred articles that are more divisive and incendiary than this one that have been printed in the last month - not year. His reposting of the article as well as the reposting by his friends who are 'sharing' it gives it far more scope than it ever would have had if they had done what most people would: read the article, get to the offensive part, say to themselves 'Oh, for Pete's sake,' and move on.

But then, I wonder if that really isn't the point. We look for offense - we look for something to be angry and upset about - we look for something about which we should have 'a moral obligation' to speak out. I suppose it's human nature. And, I guess I can accept that.

What I can't accept is the misquoting. If you are going to quote someone - do it accurately. Don't claim that someone else said something that they didn't say. If you INTERPRET what he said to mean something specific, then say that - and OWN it.

I own the fact that I lifted this image from:

Saturday, December 3, 2011


A few weeks ago I seem to have put my foot in it, as I am sometimes wont to do. I am currently serving on a committee to which my colleagues elected me a year and a half ago. This committee is charged with hashing out the various issues on which administrators and faculty often disagree, but upon which we must come to resolution.

Over the years, I have been pressed by a variety of my colleagues to serve on this committee and I have resisted. I felt that I didn't necessarily have the skill set that was appropriate for this environment -- specifically, I felt that I was too
inclined toward compromise to be effective in representing the faculty interests. While on my last sabbatical, a couple of individuals approached me again and seriously spoke with me about serving on this committee. Their arguments were compelling and I gave in and agreed.

As they say, all things are learning experiences and this has been no exception. It turns out that I was right about my hesitation but for all the wrong reasons. I am inclined to compromise. I am also inclined to give second and third chances. In this venue, though, I have made it a point to put to the side my personal views and to seek out the views of my colleagues, those who chose me to represent them. And in representing others, there is an obligation to speak out where there might not be if you are only considering your own interests.

Recently I did just that. I spoke out. The fallout has been interesting, to say the least. Going into this circumstance I knew that I might need to speak up, though prayed I wouldn't have to. I am my parents' child, after all, and learning from two masters I prefer to avoid conflict whenever possible. However, I was prepared. I had done my research, reviewed my notes, and spoken with several faculty seeking out their opinions and perspectives before the meeting to make sure I wasn't speaking inaccurately. I even had my favorite Maggie Kuhn (founder of the Gray Panthers) quote written on my notes: "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." I needed Maggie's support.

After a current issue we are facing was presented and a certain perspective on that issue was expressed, I stood (shaking internally) and introduced myself. I specifically started my comments by saying that I had a different opinion and wanted to offer a different perspective. I then presented my perspective concisely, with specific pieces of evidence to support it. Upon finishing and sitting I was shocked to hear the previous speaker's response: "Well, now that Judy has called me a liar..."

Is that where we are now? Are we in a place where any opinion that differs from our own means the person expressing it is calling us a liar? Seriously? I was absolutely stunned. I also was quick to point out that no, I had not called him a liar, that what I had done was express a different opinion and had identified it as such. The response to this was a "well, whatever" and a reiteration of the previous point.

Since the meeting I have been approached by several individuals. I've received emails. I've received phone calls, even a few at home as those calling were nervous about expressing their opinion at the office where they might be overheard. Several people sought me out in my office, or caught me in the hallway or on the mall on their way to classes. All of of them (with one notable email exception chastising me soundly) were very supportive. The majority thanked me for speaking up on their behalf and for sharing the information I had. Others thanked me for speaking for them as they were uncomfortable or afraid to speak up for themselves. Many of them also questioned the reaction that I received.

One of the individuals to seek me out was apparently as confused as I was. He asked "What was that about?" and I used the opportunity to check my perceptions. I asked "Did I? Did I call him a liar? Because if I did, then I need to apologize." My colleague said "No, you didn't call him a liar. You said that you had a different opinion." After a moment's pause he went on to say "Although, now that I think of it, by saying that to you he was kind of calling you a liar!" I decided to let that slide - while that is certainly one way to interpret it I guess, I'm not looking to pick up offense around every corner.

It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. It has caused me to reflect on a number of things. I've thought about how easy it is to speak carelessly or thoughtlessly. I've thought about how easy it is to become overly certain of our own positions. I've thought about how thin-skinned we sometimes are and how easily we take offense, often when none is intended. And I've thought about truth and lies and ethics.

When I was elected to this position I knew it was a 2 year commitment. Six months into it, I knew I had been right to resist for all those years and also knew that this one term of 2 years would be my last. With 6 months left to go, it would be awfully tempting to simply give in -- be silenced, keep quiet, smile and nod, be agreeable and not make any waves. And while it would be the easy choice, I have to admit to myself that it wouldn't be the ethical one.

Opinions are just that - opinions. Some are popular and some are not. Some are welcome and some are not. Either way, expressing your opinion does not mean you are calling all others with a different opinion liars - and it doesn't mean you shouldn't speak - even if your voice is shaking.

today's image: