Sometimes You Have to Spell it Out

john stewart

One thing I love about social work is the deep commitment to ethics. This resonated with me immediately after I read the NASW Code of Ethics for the first time. Character, Integrity, Ethics, Principle I place high value on all of these things. I have mentioned before how in a previous relationship I got the nickname of “the moral police”, my partner at the time did not understand this side of me, how important these things were to me. I was made to feel too rigid, it really wasn’t until dating Todd that I met someone else who valued these things on the same level as myself. For once I felt normal. Then upon entering into the program I was again validated, there is NOTHING wrong with being someone of strong principle.

I did have to learn balance though. I came to realize that people are neither good nor bad they just are and we are all capable of being both good and bad. I moved away from judgement which I will admit took some work, my socialization process taught me to lead from a place of judgement. Ever heard of Catholic guilt? It’s a real thing and part of living with your own sin is calling others out for their sins as a way to feel better about yourself. At least that was my experience and still is with family who have tried to shame me for some of my beliefs. It’s bad news, very negative, steeped in shame and self-loathing. Crawling out of that pit takes work.

Eventually I did figure out the balance and then a few years later I found a home in social work and my shared values with Todd. I am thankful for my passion surrounding ethics, it has helped me navigate some tricky situations in life, most recently while being in the program.

I was having a conversation with a professor about character  and integrity during office hours my second semester into the program. When explaining where I stood on something I explained that I never wanted to be in a situation where someone would put a question mark over my head (figuratively speaking). I never want to put myself in a situation where my character would be called into question. If you don’t have integrity, what do you have?

So in the program I am cautious. Although I am flexible in most aspects of my life (that is the P side of my INFP personality) when it comes to anything regarding ethics I actually am pretty rigid as my former significant other implied.

This background about me is important to understand why I am feeling the way I am right now. This semester is proving challenging because I feel like my boundaries are being tested quite a bit and I have had to delicately navigate multiple situations that I perceive as ethical issues for me.

I have made the decision I can no longer tip toe around the issues so now I am going to have to address them which will result in a potentially uncomfortable conversation with a classmate. Not thrilled about this but it must be done, I have to stand up for myself or else face my integrity being compromised (I won’t allow that to happen) or risk being taken advantage of because I was too nice to address the issues, not really my style either.

Here are some of the problems I have run into:

The person asking if I wanted to work on an online assignment together that was not assigned as a group project. I do not collaborate on any assignment unless it was explicitly assigned as group work. I told the person No and got that long awkward OKKKAAAYYYYY….. as a response. I guess it was supposed to make me feel bad for saying No or something? Whatever.

Next they wanted to borrow my book to take an open book quiz. Again I said No. My reason for this No was because I highlight and write notes in the margins when I read my text books (this person knows that about me). They would have extra help on the quiz because I do this, that would not be right so the answer was No.

Another complaint I have is that on more than one occasion I brainstormed with this person for a group project and they ended up using my brain work, my ideas and attempting to pass them off as their own without giving me any credit. It would be one thing if they said, “Jill and I were talking and we came up with…” I am willing to share credit but that is not what happened. They essentially stole my intellectual property. Can I even say that though if I had not written my ideas down? I don’t know how that works. To be clear the ideas I am talking about were not ideas we came up with together, they were my input into the conversation, ideas from my head taken from me and then used under someone else’s name. That is when I learned I could no longer brainstorm with this person. At this point I placed a question mark over this person’s head.

Then I started to realize this person was not doing the work for classes. In a group project where we, as a group of 6 people, gave ourselves a timeline to have our work ready one week before our assignment was due this person showed up the day we agreed to have everything ready and not only had they not done their part they had the nerve to ask what their part was. They had not even started doing the research. That is not an ethical issue but it is aggravating.

So now we are caught up to the latest transgression. Earlier this week this person asked what my schedule was like for the rest of the week. I should have known to ask Why rather than share my schedule, that was a rookie mistake on my part. I did share my schedule though and then the person asked for a RIDICULOUS favor. We had a paper due Tuesday at midnight, the online copy was due at midnight at least, we were also supposed to bring a hard copy to class Tuesday night. Apparently this person had not even started the paper yet so they did not have a hard copy with them , obviously. They wanted to know if they could email their paper, have me print it for them and then drop it off with the teacher (on campus) later in the week when I had time.

Even now I cannot for the life of me tell you why the next words out of my mouth were “that shouldn’t be a problem”. I was annoyed the second they asked which tells me the answer is No. You do not agree to favors you are uncomfortable with, at least I don’t. What right do I have to resent this person though? I agreed to this nonsense. I had an opportunity to say No or that I was not comfortable and I ruined it by saying “that shouldn’t be a problem”? Who is this girl? I don’t even think I know her.

Here is my issue with this. The biggest thing, it is a boundary issue. This is not something I would do for anyone else so I shouldn’t be making an exception for this person. My weak spot is that I had just gotten done hearing all about this person’s personal issues (housing issues, money trouble, work schedule conflicts etc etc) so I was feeling bad for them. I am such a sucker. This person has a track record of not taking the courses seriously by leaving early, coming in late, not turning work in on time, not pulling their weight in group work, stealing ideas and otherwise doing their best to skate by on the coat tales of others. Not to mention I do not live near campus. I live downtown more than a half hour away. We are talking roughly an hour and a half out of my day for this.

After I said it shouldn’t be a problem the person went up and spoke to the professor and I heard her tell him to just email her the paper instead of worrying about the hard copy, all I could think was Thank Goodness!

So I did not give it a second thought. Then tonight Todd and I are getting ready for bed and I go to plug my phone into the charger in the kitchen. Once I plug it in I see I have a missed text. Immediately I am annoyed because I prefer not to receive calls or texts after 7pm on weekdays. I check it though in case it is my parents or a friend in trouble etc. It’s not, of course.

It was my classmate texting to see if I would print their paper tomorrow and drop it off with the professor at school. But that’s not all, of course it’s not, they also asked if I would edit their paper for them. They offered to buy me Starbucks as compensation for the editing.

Are they serious?! Um it’s 10:00 and NO. No to all of it, no to everything. No to you texting me at 10:00 at night, No to driving for an hour to drop off your late work for you, No to cheating and No to your bribe. Just No.

It is time to have a conversation with this person. I will be diplomatic because it is not like this person is going away but it is time to establish very clear boundaries. It is also time that this person understand my character a little better so these inappropriate requests will stop.I cannot fault someone for what they do not know. This person is clearly someone who is going to try to get away with what they can, but I am not your Yes Man. I am not weak minded and although I may have a momentary lapse in judgement occasionally, like when I stupidly agreed to help in the first place, those lapses are few, far between and quickly corrected.

Here are the points I need to make

1. I do not deal in bribes.
2. I do not collaborate unless we are given permission to work in groups. That includes editing.
3. I live a half hour from campus and I am not an errand boy.
4. I am “off the clock” at 7pm everyday and I am not available on the weekends unless it is set up in advance and it is a large group project.
5. I do not appreciate late night calls/texts. It is inappropriate and unprofessional. See Bullet point 4.

I talked to my brother about all of this because he knows the person as well. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being too rigid but he validated my concerns and admitted he wasn’t too sure about this person either. Sometimes (quite often in my case) you have to listen to your intuition. I am going to have to deal with this tomorrow. It is important to me that going forward I have an understanding with this person because I would never do anything to bring my character into question and I am not going to get tangled up with someone else whose character is unclear to me.


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