Working Wounded Blog: One Strike and You're Out

News Flash: A recent Working Wounded column on the "battle of the sexes" generated the most negative mail that I've received in almost 10 years.

I've gotten a lot of angry mail through the years -- people who challenged my credentials, those who attacked my point of view and even some who really hated my photo. I thought I'd heard it all. That is until the "battle of the sexes" column ran a few weeks back.

The e-mails were angry. Really angry. You could tell it just by the subject lines: "My God, how could you get it so wrong" and "More female apologist crap." And those were two of the printable ones.

I could argue in my own defense that the content for the column was based on a book written by a best-selling business guru -- Tom Peters, the pioneering author of "Search For Excellence." I could point out that although the tips in the article were provocative, they have been made in other publications. Finally I could say that men and women really do manage differently and that there is a value in exploring these differences.

But that isn't the point of this blog. No, I would like to focus on one e-mail that I received and what it says about where disagreements seem headed in the year 2005. So without further ado, here is the e-mail in question:

"As a mental health therapist in private practice for over 30 years, I frequently deal with gender issues. Your column of 8/19/05 was one of the most biased collection of generalizations I have seen in some time. No doubt many males do not have it together but it appears from your writing that all women are positive in the work environment and men are just a negative. I asked my wife of 35 years for her reaction and she gave several examples opposite to each of the points you listed. I have written a letter to the editor … which carries your column in the Chicago area, asking that they consider dropping your column and considering one that gives a more balanced view of workplace issues."

Criticism is a part of the life of a workplace columnist. A very big part. And I accept it. But I did find it fascinating that someone would read one column and decide that I should be fired. One strike and you're out. Why should my column be dropped? According to this reader, because publications should provide a "more balanced" view. Is it balance he's looking for or someone who is unbalanced and actually tips in his direction? (Ouch, and I was doing such a good job of not coming across as defensive up until that sentence.)

It's fine for people to not like my stuff. Heck, sometimes I'm not even fond of it. But to take it to the point that you believe that the best way to handle a differing opinion is to fire the messenger, well that seems just a bit extreme to me. Especially when it comes from a seasoned mental health professional.

Diversity of ideas. A range of opinions. Seeing things from a different point of view. These are things that seem to be under attack today. Do I read things in the paper and on the Web that make my blood boil? Yes. But as Voltaire famously said, "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."

Quote of the week:
"There cannot be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full." Henry Kissinger

Weekly book excerpt:
From "Purple Cow" by Seth Goodin (Portfolio, 2003)

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