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RTC Chapter Leader Column
From the Chapter Leader

Be ‘guardians of civility’

New York Teacher
Tom Murphy

Decorum, it seems, is honored lately more as an ideal than a practice. Outbursts at our December RTC membership meeting come to mind.

As a middle child, having grown up in a family that spoke to one another respectfully, I try to foster positive interactions. What in human behavior makes things sometimes fall apart?

Basic psychology tells us the subconscious mind is composed of the id, a source of raw impulses and instincts, and the superego, which operates as a moral conscience. The interplay between the two guides us toward a healthy ego, allowing us to function normally in society. Buy it or not, it’s one way of understanding that when things are out of whack, social discourse breaks down.

In front of a classroom, you knew all about decorum and human behavior as a survival practice, even if it wasn’t based on a belief system. Remember that hot Friday in June before air conditioning when that lovely youngster in the back row erupted and caused visions of summer vacation to appear in your head? You addressed it because the other students deserved decorum, and you had to survive. Of course, some of us are glad for statutes of limitations on some crazy things we did and said while handling those situations.

Then, we were on the front lines of setting the tone of good behavior for students entering society, but it’s still important for us to be guardians of civility. We’re not in the classroom anymore, but we are active members of associations, including on the internet.

Social media and digital communication have so many positives. Think of Zoom meetings that engage not just a few hundred members but the more than 6,000 who participated in our March RTC meeting. However, we have yet to learn how to deal with its downside. Perhaps the semi-anonymity of an email or a Facebook post unleashes our id-like urges without restraint. Four or five colleagues sitting around conversing in person have a different sense of social discourse than someone sitting alone at a keyboard venting and fulminating. Remember the old caution to write that angry letter, but put it in the desk drawer overnight and read it the next morning before mailing it? Now, in our digital age, overnight is a nanosecond, and you can’t chase the mail carrier to get it back.

Some online exchanges on the consideration of a new retiree health care plan over the last two years have been toxic, questioning motives and spreading false information. Such tactics partly disrupted the RTC meeting on Dec. 13, denying others the opportunity to get valid information. What to do?

In accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order, the RTC Executive Board sets the agenda for membership meetings. Board members voted to defer regular business and allow the UFT president and the Aetna health care plan presenters to speak with an extended Q&A period at our March and April meetings. Many members who want information without disruption have applauded this approach. We appeal for decorum.

Remember yourself in front of that hot classroom on a Friday in June and think about how you would handle it.