Some years ago my father visited his doctor with an issue. The doc said it was probably nothing to worry about, but recommended an X-ray and said he would ring the hospital to make the appointment. Just as dad was leaving the surgery the doc ran after him and said: “They’re waiting for you now, Keith. Get up there as fast as you can.”
After the X-ray, dad was told that he would hear from his doctor in a few days. Somewhat worried, he updated his will, made provision for his funeral arrangements and discussed with my mother how to break the news to us four kids about his imminent demise. Some days later he got the call to go back to the doctor and he and my mother bravely set off to hear the news.
“Ok, doc, just tell me straight – I can handle it,” said dad, stoically. The doctor apparently looked at him in some surprise: “There’s nothing wrong with you, Keith, except that you need to eat less bread.”
“But you rushed me to the hospital,” said dad. “I assumed that meant it was serious, but you didn’t want to tell me until you were sure.” The doc replied: “Goodness, no! When I rang they said they had just had a cancellation and if you could get there right away they’d do it immediately – otherwise you’d have to wait a few weeks.”
We kids were baffled and bemused when we got a call from my father to say it was ok, he wasn’t dying, because we had never thought he was!
The ability of human beings to hear a snippet of information and jump to all kinds of often incorrect conclusions is legendary and potentially damaging. We know from what happened to Caroline Flack that in the world of social media millions jump online as judge and jury, with sometimes tragic consequences.
Our sector is not immune to this dangerous combination of new technology and psychology. Whether it’s the Charity Commission’s tendency to apparently prioritise enforcement based on media headlines, or a badly researched story about a charity or its chief executive causing a media firestorm, the effects and risks of distorted or incomplete information have a bearing on people’s lives.
We should not assume any charity or its staff are guilty of wrongdoing before the full facts come to light. It’s neither fair nor in line with our values. We would be livid if any of our beneficiaries were hung, drawn and quartered by social media mobs reacting to what is, essentially, online gossip. We must resist the temptation to react as “gleefully as the most ragged and revolutionary tricoteuse*”.
In today’s world there, but for the grace of the gods, could go any of us. So let’s get into the habit of waiting for the results from the experts before drafting the eulogy. #Bekind
*The term used to describe the women who supposedly sat knitting and cheering while watching executions of the nobility by guillotine during the French Revolution