Search This Blog

Sep 9, 2021

When reasonable people disagree they don't get mad at each other

Here is another interesting tidbit from our internal debate on COVID contact disclosure. Someone from the other side of the university presents an argument that we should not inform students who we know had a low-risk level contact with an infected classmate or instructor. The rationale for this is the following: (1) The blanket notifications result in "notification fatigue" and people ignore them later, when they may actually need to pay attention. (2) You create unnecessary anxiety and unnecessary healthcare demands which comes at a cost. The logic is impeccable from the public health perspective. I am sure it represents the best thinking in the public health.

However, in the context of our relationships with students, this does not work. In colleges, we deal with specific small groups of students – we face them in classrooms and know them by names. When students find out we knew about the exposure, and did not tell them, they will be upset with us. Our unspoken agreement is not that of a healthcare provider and a patient. These are longer-term relationships of mutual trust. We are expected to share the information we have and let them make their own decision about whether they should worry or not. Withholding that information makes us look somewhat paternalistic and untrustworthy, regardless of the actual outcome. The considerations of cost do not enter into our calculus at all. Because we do not deal with thousands of students, large effects like lowering the sensitivity to exposure messages also is not a part of our worldview.

This is a classic case where a disagreement does not arise from one of the parties being wrong. We just operate in different relational worlds, with different assumptions about the nature of the relationships. It would be interesting to see how such a no-fault difference of opinions gets ultimately resolved. Ideally, it should have happened before the school year started, but we cannot resolve a difference in opinion we do not know about. The problem with disagreements like this is that pop up unexpectedly. Each party is blind to the fact that the other party may see things differently, until such differences clash.

They normally resolve as a compromise of some sort, just like any other disagreement. For that to happen, we continue to talk across the organization. It is not a matter of figuring out whose argument is stronger, and who holds more power. A successful solution depends on how much we all can expand our horizons beyond our immediate professional experiences and consider the other position seriously.

No comments:

Post a Comment