Text unto others as you would have them text unto you

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 26, 2016

Tweets and texting, or is it only a problem if it’s an email? Does it really matter? What cold-hearted, insensitive things we think we are sharing privately become instantly, devastatingly public in these days of social media.

Just ask a very contrite Tom Moffatt, a former Alberta NDP candidate and the Town of Taber’s now-suspended IT manager, for example. And what did he tweet that had such embarrassing consequences? Why, in the heat of the Fort McMurray wildfire, with nearly 90,000 people fleeing for their lives, he saw an opportunity to proclaim his political stand on climate change: “Karmic #climatechange fire burns CDN oilsands city.”

Of course, Tom’s not alone. Consider the equally contrite Justine Sacco. The now-dismissed director of communications for a U.S.-based internet company incurred international outrage by her racist in-flight tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

I’ve written about mean-spirited communications before. In my April 30, 2015 column, for instance, I referred to Cochrane coffee companion Kevin Peacock’s personal criteria for deciding what emails to forward. The Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary professor, inspired by Rotary International’s Four-Way Test, makes his decision on the basis of whether a particular item is true, fair and kind. If an item doesn’t meet those criteria, it doesn’t get forwarded.

Another of our Cochrane readers, George Churchill, uses similar criteria, which he refers to as his Golden Rule.

The retired railroader follows respect-based guidelines for forwarding an e-mail: Is it true and appropriate? Does it respect privacy and busy schedules? Will it stimulate thought and happiness?

As noted in my column for May 25, 2011, George explains his criteria as follows:

“Choosing what e-mails to forward has me evaluating the message for humour, creativity, personal skill, valuable information,” and his favourite, “for the ability to help people enjoy the moment.”

He refuses to forward tasteless and intimidating items, such as chain and “miracle” messages with their false hopes and preposterous pronouncements. He also scrutinizes anything that seems too good to be true or in other ways raises his suspicions.

“Before I’ll forward any of those, I investigate them using snopes.com, hoax-slayer.com, or urbanlegends.about.com,” he says. “I wish everyone would take the time to consider the validity of the message.”

Appearance and size of forwards are also important for George.

“The smaller the e-mail the better, so once I have a message to forward, the first thing I do is eliminate all the extraneous junk included with the message” – irrelevant marks and notices from previous forwards, unnecessary spaces, overly-large font sizes, etc.

“If the message includes a large video clip, I will first try to find the video on the Internet and forward the link rather than the video attachment itself” – important out of respect for recipients with smaller mailboxes and slower download speeds.

He’s also very choosy about those to whom he forwards an item. As much as possible, he tries to make sure his recipients would actually want to receive the e-mail he’s forwarding. The former railroad executive doesn’t want to take a chance he’s wasting someone’s time.

“I believe that’s important, as I hope that, when people see a message arriving from me, they’re not groaning and rolling their eyes, but rather, looking forward to something of interest.”

It’s all about respect, he says – respect for the source and respect for the recipient. Respect for the recipient covers everything from content to appearance – anything that might offend, distract or waste time.

And here, I would only add: Does it respect the legitimate sensitivities of the subject of the communication and persons associated with it?

So, what if we modify the Golden Rule to apply to tweets and texting, too (and yes, even political ones, as I’m sure Moffatt and Sacco would agree, in view of the karmic consequences they’ve experienced)?

Revised Golden Rule?

Text unto and about others as you would have them text unto and about you.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page