“Play Nice”

Americans can (and do) disagree with our politicians, political appointees, federal employees and others in public positions, but anyone in these positions is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.

When I was in the second grade, I had the good fortune to have Mrs. Clarabell Gallison as my teacher.

From the “world view” perspective of an 8-year old who seldom ventured outside a small town, Mrs. Gallison was impressive. She was smart, kept order in the classroom and all students (all 10 of us) had a healthy combination of fear and respect. The result was that we wanted to stay in her good graces.

We had at least one person in our class who liked to play the role of a bully and he was effective at it. In a small Vermont town near the Canadian border, the winters are very cold. School would close when the temperatures would get to -40 or so and the heater could not perform its job. Below zero temperatures warmer than -40 were very common throughout the winter and school remained open. Those of us who lived within a mile or so of the school were expected to walk because the one bus had to go throughout the town to pick up students who lived on farms or in areas to far outside of town to walk to school.

While walking to school, or just before class started, one of the students who was a year older than the rest of us (bullys are not always the most intelligent students and he had already flunked the first grade) liked to rub snow in the face of another student who was smaller and less able to defend himself. With a temperature of -20 degrees or so, having your face rubbed in snow and ice hurts and causing physical pain apparently served the cause of the bully who wanted people to fear him.

When one of the students subjected to this display of school yard power came to class with cuts on his face and a bloody nose, Mrs. Gallison (who probably knew or had a strong suspicion who was responsible for the dastardly act) gave us a lecture on why we should “play nice.” To her credit, we had enough fear and respect for her that the tone of her voice when admonishing all of us to “play nice” had an impact—even with the bully who respected an older woman who probably weighed less than he did.

It wasn’t clear what would happen if we didn’t follow the rules but we knew the results would not be something we wanted to experience. The bullying stopped and, to the best of my recollection, did not recur during the remainder of the school year.

I am occasionally reminded of the school yard incident when reading comments from some of our readers.

The comments section of our site is very popular. We encourage readers to participate and to express their views. While we are occasionally berated for disapproving a comment—allegedly because we disagreed with the views being expressed—anyone who takes the time to read through the comments will quickly see a wide variety of opinions. Most of them are inconsistent with each other or have a different perspective. Many of the writers disagree vehemently with one of our articles or the views of other readers.

I write a number of articles for the site and sign the articles. Readers often disagree with these opinions or do not like the fact we are publicizing proposed legislation or some other issue with which they disagree. We publish the opposing views, or at least most of them, as long as they are written in a way that is free from insults, innuendo and verbal abuse. We encourage the expression of your views but ask you to respect the views of others as well.

Our writers have worked for federal agencies as employees and as contractors. We obviously participate in the discussions and enjoy reading what other people have to say. The federal workforce is generally well-educated, thoughtful, smart and well-informed on current events.

Articles on the FedSmith site often deal with controversial subjects. Recent articles have touched on religion, federal pay and benefits, politics, and similar topics that will light the intellectual passions of some readers. In fact, stimulating interest and discussion is a primary purpose of the website.

But here are several general observations. My head is located on the top of my shoulders (not elsewhere); I do not take illegal drugs, do not generally hallucinate when writing articles, and I am not in bed with any poltician, lobbyist, political appointee or any member of a non-profit organization (either male or female) to whom I am not married.

Moreover, regardless of political views or political affililation of any reader, President George Bush is not a member of the Nazi party and should not be referred to as “Herr Adolph.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld undoubtedly has his strengths and weaknesses but is not a “scumbag,” “baby killer,” and is not a member of the Nazi party.

Political appointees are subject to the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of us but they have consented to be in a public position subject to scrutiny and observation that most of us do not want. We are entitled to disagree with their actions, policies and statements. But, in the absence of documented evidence to the contrary, these people are not sexual deviates and their heads are properly placed on top of the shoulders.

Our software will usually disapprove comments with references such as these. We do not moderate these more extreme comments as they are automatically deleted. In our view, anyone occupying an elected, appointed or public position in our government is worthy of our respect. While acknowledging that others disagree with this view, we do not intend to publish comments on the site that do not follow this general guideline.

We would like the FedSmith site to reflect the professionalism of the federal workforce. In our view, this means that comments about officials and other readers should be respectful–even though a writer may disagree with a policy, proposal or opinion. If we don’t publish your comment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we were opposed to your point of view. It most likely means it was insulting or disrespectful to another reader or ignored a discussion of the subject and resorted to using names or other innuendo which would not be allowed on the grade school playground,

In other words, “play nice” and our website will be more enjoyable and useful for all readers.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47