Maybe it is just the phase of the moon, but there seems to be a proliferation of situations that indicate people are struggling with understanding and respecting boundaries.

A story that has gone viral is about a reporter who was terminated for comments she shared on her personal blog. Apparently initially she had taken the comments down, but decided to repost them to be true to her values.

Among her comments she shared personal opinions about people she interviewed and topics, the fact there were times that she was poorly prepared and other little tidbits. Somehow it seems she lost track of the fact that she was a public personality and her comments crossed over into areas that reflected poorly upon her and her employer. The fact that she initially took the comments down upon her employers request indicated she wasn’t totally unaware of this.

News flash. When you are a public personality your actions and comments reflect on you and your employer. Unless you are a political commentator or paid to review books, movies, etc. that probably prefer you refrain from sharing your personal opinion in public.

The second story is the interview conducted by a reporter for Fox News with a Muslim scholar who recently published a book on Jesus of Nazareth.

I say Jesus of Nazareth not to diminish the importance of Jesus to the Christian faith, but rather to acknowledge that there are other faiths including Islam that do not perceive Jesus’s role with the same significance that Christians do.

 Are they being intentionally disrespectful, I don’t think so. It was obvious from the interview that this particular interviewer left her journalistic objectivity behind. Her incredulity at the fact that a Muslim would presume to write a book about Jesus is embarrassing. 

The author in question is a scholar advancing an opinion, he is Muslim by religion. In my experience the two are not mutually exclusive. When we allow our preconceived biases to filter what we hear we are really giving up a lot.

Another story discussed the American serviceman who leaked highly sensitive information he had access to. Some are saying he acted in the public interest and within his free speech rights. I would disagree. If he was so abhorred she should have attempted to resign from the service. When he enlisted (we no longer have a draft) his obligations were made clear to him. He like the reporter in the first story chose to ignore the clearly provided boundaries.

The last experience is a discussion on a blog I follow about experiences managing a person you don’t like. I would submit that if any manager has not encountered an employee or superior they didn’t like they are either Pollyanna or new to management.

The work environment is not a social experiment or a club. Generally organizations exist to fulfill a mission or purpose. When this is done extremely well it is around a set of shared core values with clear guidelines and expectations about what those values look like in action.
Liking someone is nice, hiring and managing people who share the values and are aligned in achieving the organizational mission is critical.

Every person in the world is entitled to respect for their personhood, every person. I can disagree with them and their values and opinions, but that does not relieve me of my obligation to treat them respectfully.

A follow up question asked whether or not this should apply to cross cultural situations or in other cultures. For me the answer is yes. I could not effectively work in a culture where the values are totally incongruent with my own.

There are many cultures that offer far less protections for employees than in the U.S. My feeling is that being relieved from the legal obligations of the U.S laws doesn’t relieve me of the moral obligation that frames them. There is a difference between doing what is right and what is correct.

Boundaries like individual freedoms are important. When your individual freedom transgresses against other we have a conflict.

When the boundaries are clear and you choose to ignore them you choose your consequences. It is entirely appropriate to challenge boundaries you feel inappropriate in a constructive way. That is why we have labor laws, civil rights, and a host of other protections.

People are entitled within reason to their viewpoints and values and acting consistent with them, except when you try to impose yours or disrespect the values and viewpoints of others.
It would be nice if people had evolved to the point where we didn’t need boundaries like laws and agencies to enforce them, but we aren’t there yet.

The internet and social media have provided outlets for people to share viewpoints and values. There are social and legal boundaries that haven’t kept pace.

I wouldn’t presume to impose my boundaries on anyone else, but these have worked for me -

  • Wherever possible give people the benefit of the most positive interpretation of their comments and actions
  • Treat everyone with respect and the way they want to be treated, not what I judge to be appropriate
  • When I violate someone’s boundaries apologize and seek to avoid repeating it
  • Respect other peoples values and viewpoints whether I understand and agree with them or not


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