Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teaching through humiliation: tough love or cruelty?

Today a popular East African radio show host received a message from one of her fans, an aspiring writer who was seeking advice about how to get published. The young writer made the mistake of sending the radio show host a message ridden with grammatical errors and typos. How did the radio show host respond? She posted the young writer’s message, complete with her name, age and alma mater on her Facebook wall, with a statement to the effect that nobody would take a self-proclaimed writer seriously if she couldn’t be bothered to write her message properly.

The radio show host had a point about the importance of such details as grammar and spelling in letters of inquiry about jobs and about opportunities for publication. Hiring managers routinely disqualify candidates who send them documents that are full of errors. In their experience, people who don’t pay attention to detail in their formal communication are bound to carry the same casual attitude into the job. This is especially the case in the writing professions, where the correct use of language is necessary for clear communication. It is important for those in the know to convey this information to aspiring professionals as they would otherwise continually sabotage their efforts to find decent jobs and opportunities.

The radio show host was likely thinking along these lines when she set out to show her fan “tough love” on her page. However, she went overboard. Her attempt to shame her fan ended up overshadowing any lessons she might have imparted and probably earned her a huge chunk of ill will.

Now, it is not the role of an entertainer to teach her fans the finer points of English grammar or to connect them to professional opportunities. So the radio show host would have been entirely within her rights to ignore her fan’s letter. However, she did choose to respond, and she did so in her professional capacity. So she should have taken the time to do it properly: she should have sent a private response to her fan, answering her question, and pointing out the flaws in her approach. Then, if she felt inclined to turn it into a teachable moment for her other fans, she should have written a note on the subject without singling out the fan and sharing the specific contents of her letter.

Radio entertainers may not view themselves as journalists, but they do have a public platform, and the capacity to reach and affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of listeners with their words. Their profession brings with it great responsibility. More so if they take it upon themselves to inform or educate their fans on matters that fall outside their immediate purview. Belittling their fans for lacking sophistication in professional etiquette is unprofessional. It is also a wasted opportunity to make a meaningful difference.


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This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Please feel free to use my writing for non-commercial purposes and do credit my name, Rose Kahendi, as the writer.

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