Skip navigation

ENE Memo: December 12, 2011

From the Head: 12/12

Thinking critically

Rumor and gossip are an unfortunate, destructive aspect of every workplace. It is ironic that in the academy, which has at its core the idea of seeking truth and which values critical thinking, gossip is so endemic. We all know every story has two or more sides, yet we often allow ourselves to accept uncritically rumors and gossip as if it were truth. One-sided, behind-the-back criticism in the form of gossip is the antithesis of critical thinking.

In Choosing Civility (pp64-68), Forni quotes Bertrand Russell's penetrating observation that "Nobody ever gossips about other people's secret virtues."

Forni asks the critical question: What makes us speak ill of others?

  • When we are unsure of our own worth, we project upon others the less-than-flattering image we have of ourselves.
  • When we are in competition with others, sometimes we can't help believing that we will shine by contrast if we make them look bad.
  • It is less demanding and less painful to point out other people’s problems – real or imaginary – than to try to solve our own.
  • By showing that we are privy to an unflattering secret about someone, we seek to raise our standing in our group. At the same time, we feel empowered because what we say can cause considerable damage.

He also puts forward a number of compelling reasons why we should not speak ill of others, including these:

  • When we speak of others in a derogatory manner, we hurt them. We always hurt their reputation, and we can also hurt their feelings should our words reach them.
  • It is cowardly to attack those who are not present. They cannot defend themselves, and the attacker can get away with misrepresentations, exaggerations and outright lies.
  • Our speaking unkindly of others may be severely judged by those who are listening to us. When we threaten someone else's reputation, we put our own at risk as well.

Forni concludes with a pointed warning that "The possibility of things spiraling out of control is always present. We know for a fact that many acts of violence have their origins in acts of incivility."

Gossip is a poison that slowly eats away at all who participate in it. We owe it to ourselves and to our co-workers that we do not accept without question rumors and gossip. Before we engage in idle gossip, we should think critically about the impact on others, the impact on ourselves and the impact on our work environment. If we hear gossip, we should be critical thinkers and seek out the whole story from all perspectives, especially from authoritative sources, in order to get to the truth of the matter.

  - David

News and Information: 12/12

Today is the YouTube Extravaganza!

Check out this year's video projects on the theme "What is engineering education?", created by students in ENE 502, "History and Philosophy of Engineering Education."

  • Time: 1pm TODAY
  • Location: ARMS 1028

Snacks provided!

Previous years' YouTube videos are (of course) on YouTube:

Calendar: 12/12

  • Mon, Dec 12: YouTube Video Extravaganza (by students in "History and Philosophy of Engineering Education"), 1 pm, ARMS 1028.
  • Fri, Dec 16: Presentation of Industry Research Proposals, ARMS 3109, 1:30-3:30pm 
  • Fri/Mon, Dec. 23, 26: Purdue holiday
  • Fri/Mon, Dec 30, Jan 2: Purdue holiday

Spring 2012

National or Independence Days around the World

  • Dec 12 - Kenya - Independence Day
  • Dec 18 - Niger - Republic Day
To suggest content for future issues of ENE Memo, contact David Radcliffe or Lisa Tally by midday Friday for the following week's issue.