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Sunday, 8 March 2015

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Management

You will all be familiar with that quote, won't you? Google it and you'll find several books with that title. I wonder, did the authors find themselves besieged by throngs of irate managers demanding that the title be changed? That their sensibilities had been cruelly violated? Ok, let's try, "If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Owl Keeping". Is it probable that an equally massed throng of Owl Keepers, Hedwig perched disgruntled upon their forearms, descend with equal ferocity, demanding change and proclaiming feelings of deep insult? In truth, amongst the Managers and the Owl Keepers of this land there may exist a small percentage that do feel insulted, or somehow demeaned by such a title, but does this mean that such words should never be ventured? Are we expected to refrain from venturing a comment for fear that a tiny few may feel distress?
Not according to something known as the principle of harm, or the principle of offence, a benchmark philosophy ventured by John Stuart Mill, widely considered as an authority on matters of free speech. Put simply, and let us assume that no individual names nor organisations are specifically mentioned, nobody has the right to assert that we cannot say as we please. Now clearly there are limits of free speech, things that incite violence or personally defame, and I generally think society has a fairly good understanding of how to manage this.
Moving on, let's pick another phrase. How about "It Meets The Needs Of The Business". Now I've heard this at more than one company, and you"ll struggle to avoid it at most marketing/business seminars. It's a nebulous statement, Ill defined, able to mean everything and nothing. Hypothetically then, what if a person was to venture this one liner in the context of a group conversation on social media? What kind of person, or what kind or organisation would choose to take offence? And what would it consequently imply? Well if you're anything like me you've probably already drawn firm conclusions, none of which are likely to be favourable. Ok, let's get to the core; this is a post questioning what we should or should not be free to do in the context of social media, and for what it's worth here is my take. Anything which brings a named individual or an organisation or its policies into disrepute should be avoided, especially when so many organisations monitor social media usage. Specific insults, general defaming whether it is aimed towards the individual or to the organisation again may lead you to hot water. So tread carefully.
However, you will find, often through sheer lack of knowledge, that many do not understand the principle of harm nor the principle of offence, and will seek to tell you that some imaginary line in the sand has been transgressed when, in fact, no wrong has been done. My advice, my very strong advice is to fully study Mill's seminal observations in this area, because should the day come when you are challenged, you can refer to it and require those making the accusation to specifically point out where the principle has been violated. And here's a tip, if you have mentioned neither individuals nor persons you are on solid ground, and can legitimately insist that accusers either withdraw a complaint, or at least provide assurances that they will be better informed in future.
At present, I've had good reason to study John Stuart Mills very closely. It has helped me to decided whether to pursue a course of action which may result in an eventual change of personal circumstances. I can say no more at present, other than to suggest that should any of my readers be facing a similar scenario, and assuming you have defamed neither individual nor a specific organisation, you may also wish to take a similar path.

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