A pledge to try to be kinder

July 1st, to mark her first day as full professor at UBC (Congratulations!!), Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins made two public pledges: (1) to treat other philosophers with respect, and (2) not to treat behaviour by other philosophers that violates (1) as if it were acceptable within the profession.

Writes CIJ:

I think of the following as pledges concerning my future behaviour qua professional philosopher. I’m making them public in the hope (and expectation!) of being held accountable to them.* This isn’t a complete list of my aspirations in this domain, of course; just a few basic things to start out with.

While she hastens to add that it’s not her “intention to suggest that these or similar pledges should be made by every philosopher,” it seems to me that it would be really wonderful if those of us who wish to hold ourselves to the same admirable standards CIJ describes were to publicly state that they too wish to take the pledge. The comment thread below is, I think, as good a place as any to do this. While FP has always permitted anonymous comments — and while we will continue to permit them in this thread — it would be really great if colleagues who feel safe doing so note their name, rank and institution below. I’ll start things off…

50 thoughts on “A pledge to try to be kinder

  1. Me too! I take the pledge.

    Alice MacLachlan
    Associate Professor
    Department of Philosophy
    York University, Canada

  2. My best intentions are with hers:
    Carolyn Dicey Jennings
    Assistant Professor
    University of California, Merced

  3. Definitely. — And congratulations, Carrie!

    Holly Lawford-Smith
    University of Sheffield.

  4. I take the pledge.

    Ivan Gonzalez-Cabrera
    PhD Student
    Australian National University

  5. I intend to to follow Carrie’s lead. I have no doubt I will fail at times, and I hope others will call me out.

    Shen-yi Liao
    Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University
    Marie Curie Fellow, University of Leeds

  6. Sure. This is a standard I can do my best to live up to.

    Matt L. Drabek
    ACT, Inc. (Content Specialist)
    The University of Iowa (Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy)

  7. I take the pledge.

    Meredith Schwartz
    Assistant Professor
    Ryerson University

  8. I take the pledge.
    Lisa Miracchi
    2014-2015 Bersoff Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, NYU
    2015– Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania

  9. I’m in. Thanks for providing this forum and to Carrie.
    – Helen De Cruz, postdoctoral fellow of the British Academy, University of Oxford

  10. I take the pledge.
    Gillian Russell
    Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies,
    Washington University in St Louis,
    soon to be
    Full Professor
    UNC Chapel Hill

  11. Absolutely.

    I am concerned about any untenured member of an underrepresented group taking the full pledge. We recently looked at how the inside-outside positioning might lead to very different responses. If someone in your department thinks you’ve been insulting and presumptuous, you may suffer a lot.

    Retiring from
    The dept of philosophy
    university of houston

  12. There is a bit of tension here between not accepting the behavior of those who disrespect other philosophers and at the same time treating those who behave that way with respect. It’s complicated to know what respect means in dealing, for example, with a bully. But I’ll try! So I’m in too.

    Noelle McAfee
    Professor of Philosophy
    Emory University

  13. Wow! I never envisaged starting something like this, but it is really encouraging to know that the many awesome philosophers above make the same commitments.

    I am also very much in agreement with the additional comments from Ajjacobson and Noelle McAfee. The point Ajjacobson notes is among the reasons I wanted to make clear that my original post was only a statement of my own future intentions. (As such it could be tailored to my own situation and what I could feel comfortable signing up to.) And the difficulties Noelle notes are among the reasons I’m sure I won’t always know how to conform to my intentions, and won’t always succeed in doing so even when I do know. But I’ll be trying too!

  14. Me too. And, taking Anne’s & Noelle’s points, we/I need to be attentive to how we’re differently placed. We can all try to be kind, especially to those with less power, but when it comes to how we respond—not unkindly but visibly & firmly—to those who act badly (not an easy thing to figure out, as Noelle notes), relative vulnerability is a large part of what locates the brave between the foolhardy & the craven.

  15. I (28 anonymous) didn’t intend to be anonymous. Just forgot to sign.
    Naomi Scheman
    Professor of Philosophy
    University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  16. Carrie, your comment suggests to me that the untenured might be advised to consider 2 as applying mainly with respect to their peers.

  17. annjjacboson, For what it’s worth, my best guess is there are a number of factors that could be relevant to someone’s take on 2, though these could certainly include untenuredness.

  18. Carrie, I agree. Another might be the proportion of women in the department.

  19. Music to my ears, CSI. I am also down.

    Sophie Ban
    Adjunct, Mercer County Community College
    PhD Student, ‘Cuse

    *This might be a challenge at times- there will probably be cases where it seems impossible to satisfy both (1) and (2), but I they’re both good, so I hope we can find ways to meet both even in these more difficult cases.

    Any thoughts on how to go about (2) without violating (1)?

  20. For sure, RMcK for sure!

    But it looks like we have our work cut out for us: snark is ubiquitous, and abusive rhetoric is hurled around the blogosphere in lieu of substantive arguments all the time. And what’s with all the nefarious [not to mention, unlikely] motives people seem to love to impute of one another?

    Has it always been like this?

    Anyway, in spite of all that, I’m optimistic. I mean we’re endowed with rigorous training in rigorous thinking- and we opted to pass that along to others rather than chase dollars for ourselves. That seems like a good foundation to me. Thanks again CSI Jenkins!

    Later All!

  21. i take the pledge
    saray ayala
    postdoctoral fellow
    carlos III university of madrid

  22. I think we should differentiate between treating people with respect and anything to do with kindness. These seem to me two totally distinct things. I agree that respect is important. I think that sometimes kindness is not the right approach. (For example, if I really screw something up, my adviser is not always kind. But he is the greatest advisor on earth, and I know that he deeply respects me. But I think we also don’t have to be kind to those who fail to respect others. I do think it is worth treating them with respect.) Perhaps this is a merely verbal dispute, but it seems to me there is a huge difference between treating people kindly and treating them with respect.

  23. Anon lady grad: I don’t think that’s a merely verbal distinction. I think it’s critical, and it speaks to Noelle’s worry raised above. Calling someone out for bad behaviour is almost never “kind,” but it can be done with respect (such would often be what’s being called “calling in” rather than merely “calling out,” but I do think one can call someone out with respect, as well).

  24. Yes. Just being nice to people when they mess up can be almost *disrespectful* in a way. With this in mind, it turns out that treating people with the appropriate sort of respect can be an emotionally scary and intellectually difficult thing to do.

    Of course, calling people out in a respectful way doesn’t include random name-calling, which unfortunately has been considered normal behavior in the discipline. That’s one thing I like about this pledge- it aims to marginalize that sort of gratuitous meanness.

  25. I’d like to make this pledge too, and am happy to make Delft’s suggested emendation.
    Daniel Hill
    Lecturer in Philosophy
    University of Liverpool

  26. These seem like important standards for professional conduct. Delft’s point is particularly relevant for thinking about our relationships with students, faculty from other departments, and professional staff at the universities and colleges where we (hope to) work. I share these intentions and will try to live up to this code.

    Andrew Robinson
    Research Associate
    University of Guelph

  27. I think there are general issues here independent of particular personalities and recent events.
    We should all applaud Jenkins’ policy 1. But 2 is more problematic. For one thing it can and usual does in practice involve a direct opposition to 1.
    Secondly, no one has transparent access as to whether they have been a victim of demeaning etc behavior or words. No one can declare themselves a victim and be incorrigible. I have seen more than one case of someone (in all cases as it happens a younger woman) who took offence and who was then unpleasant in response, which caused the alleged perpetrator to suffer emotionally. I did not see the justification at all for the response and maybe I was wrong. But no one should take themselves to be clearly justified in responding this way. 2 seems to discourage hesitation and caution before potentially doing damage.
    The bias literature is helpful here, since especially when we perceive ourselves to be victims we tend to be biased.
    Also who has the power dominant relation is also usually not clear, with victims often assuming they have less power than those they take to be perpetrators, which again is not always right.
    So the policy 2, I think has to be handled with great caution and epistemic humility. I mean look at the Danish cartoons! Many who claimed to be offended by them then did terrible things. Similarly victimhood in academia can also be a shield behind which to be aggressive. That is not to say that there are no victims, just that one should not assume matters are clear-cut, with victims and perpetrators dressed in black and white, and obviously identifiable, like a Hollywood movie. And of course we assume that we are on the side of the goodies. So policy 2 as a blanket policy is dangerous, especially if we want to be kinder.

  28. anonymous, there are some things I don’t understand about your comment.

    1. I don’t know how you think 2 would discourage hesitation or caution since there is no necessary connection between failing to treat a behavior as normal and reacting with immediacy or without thinking.

    2. I am confused as to how the bias literature shows that we are especially biased when we perceive ourselves to be victims. I would have thought the bias literature shows something more like we are especially biased against those who are unlike us, or against those who we fail to identify with.

    3. I don’t understand why you thought it was relevant to mention that in all the cases you take yourself to have witnessed of someone reacting to offense such that the perpetrator suffered emotionally involved women who took offense.

    4. I don’t understand why you think 2 would encourage thinking of people as clearly divided into two groups when Carrie has explicitly said that she has violated some of the norms in question herself, asks others to hold her accountable to them, and the norms are regarding behaviors not persons.

  29. I’m not the same anonymous, and I thank you Philodaria, for putting the other anon’s points so concisely.

    1. Sure, there is no necessary connection between failing to treat as normal and reacting without thinking. But “failing to treat as normal” sounds a lot like ostracism, and I think people should be very careful not to ostracize those who fall short of the first part of the pledge.

    2. I’m not sure what the allusion to bias literature was meant to do either. But it’s not too much of a stretch to think that it’s hard for all of us to objectively evaluate things or people who stand in direct conflict with our own interests.

    3. I’m not sure why gender is relevant here either.

    4. I think that the norms are about behaviors not persons is key. But again, it’s extremely easy to ostracize people in lieu of simply pointing out how their behavior has been harmful. If we’re going to honor the first part of Carrie’s awesome pledge, then we need to be very careful about how we carry-out the second part.

  30. Carrie, thank you for articulating these goals so incisively. I also take the pledge and would like to be held accountable. I find it far more effective to consciously commit myself to specific goals rather than relying on a vague background intention to be nice or civil. It’s too easy to allow the boundaries of the latter sort of rule to shift ‘in the moment’!

    It took me too long to learn this. Back in graduate school I was one of those people who would have found this sort of thing unnecessary and likely to stifle the necessary ‘rough and tumble exchange’ of philosophical ideas. I have come to realize that I was just wrong–- the most productive philosophical exchanges I have witnessed are entirely consistent with these goals. And what I thought of as the ‘rough and tumble exchange of ideas’ was too frequently in fact a destructive clash of egos that obscured whatever real philosophy was at stake.

    I’ve learned all this over the years largely due to the wonderful example of many of my friends and colleagues, as well as venues (like this one) that offer a space to discuss key issues like microaggression & stereotype threat, including first-person accounts of those who have had to deal with these things. Thanks to the folks here for this transformative service.

    David Manley
    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

  31. … I might add that in referring to clashes of egos, the only specific examples I had in mind were some exchanges I participated in or observed many years ago. No veiled references to any recent conversations I’ve had or witnessed!

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