Sometimes we need boundaries

If you write a blog, you will get correspondence.  Some of it will be useful.  A gentleman wrote to me only yesterday, sending an image for a Mithraic monument where I previously had none.

But some of it is less welcome.  I used to get cases where young people would write, asking me to do their homework.  Luckily this hasn’t happened for a while.  This may be because the schools no longer teach classics, of course.

An email arrived today, from someone employed by John Wiley and Sons, a major publisher.  They’d found a image file on the web, from my blog.  Might they have permission to use it in some publication?

My name is __________. I’m working as a permissions specialist for John Wiley & Sons, a leading educational publisher. My responsibility is to clear rights for content to be used in new Wiley products.
We would like to use your figure in a forthcoming Wiley title …. by …..

The sender had an Indian name.

My first reaction was that this was a form email.  My next was to wonder what on earth the picture was?  I clicked, and it turned out to be a page from a manuscript.  Obviously not my work, then.  A bit more searching found the article – the sender had not bothered to do this – and I quickly found the manuscript library, and a link to it.  Then I saw that I had not linked to the particular page for that image, but would have to click through and scroll a bit.  The site did not work with mobile – I was lying on the sofa at the time – so I would have to go up to my study and turn on my computer etc etc.

At this point, I rebelled a bit.  I try to be a good guy, but why should I have to do all this?  This is my life.  Why should I donate it to a stranger who themselves was making not the slightest effort.

The sender had done nothing – absolutely nothing. Their manager had given them the url of the image.  All they had done was to paste the url of the image into a form email, go to my home page to find the contact form, and send that boilerplate to me.  They had made no effort to find the post to which it belongs, or to discover whether the image was mine or not.  They must have taken 30 seconds, if that – although no doubt they spent longer at the keyboard.

Writing to me, a reasonable person would have actually written to me, not just pasted boilerplate.  They would have asked about the image, and, if unable to find the source, would have asked.  That is what you or I would have done.  They would have shown respect for my time.  But this person did not.  They evidently did not care about the job enough to lift a finger.  What less could they have done, than they did?

This brought to mind a memory of days gone by, when I was freelancing.  Sometimes the clients had Indian staff, either locally or offshore.  Companies liked to recruit them in place of people like me, even if they had poor English.  We always assumed that they were paid a pittance – although it would be a fortune back in India.

A rare few of these gentry were good.  But most were not.  So many did nothing at all.  They would require instruction in painstaking detail for each and every task.  They would never show initiative.  They would do as little as possible.  If pressed they would play the language card and allow their accents to thicken until you couldn’t understand them.  Recruited on price, they were taking a job from someone here who deserved it, and, by doing nothing, they added to the burden on everyone else.  They were paid little, and worth less.

Clearly I was dealing with one of these.  So I abandoned my reply email – I had started to draft it – and decided not to reply.  It’s not my image, it’s not my problem.  Why should I do that work for someone who will probably not even say “thank you”?

I did feel a bit guilty.  I thought “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”.

But then, I wouldn’t do this to a stranger.  If I write, asking for help, I would always show that I had done the most I could. I would make clear that I wasn’t trying to steal their time in order to save my own.  Is that unreasonable?

I think not.  We must all draw a line somewhere.


4 thoughts on “Sometimes we need boundaries

  1. Hello Roger,
    Yes: draw limits.
    My policy is to ask inquiring persons to send me a letter via the post.
    Apparently there is no question so pressing that the prospect of an envelope and postage stamp won’t doom it to “never mind” status.
    The anger with which some have responded to this condition reveals, I think, that the email “conversation” they had had in mind at the outset far exceeded the innocent question posed initially.

  2. Good suggestion, and interesting responses.

    I always remember how C.S.Lewis doomed himself to write endless correspondence, most of it useless, when he might have written more works that would have delighted the world.

  3. You are right to set boundaries. I’d never dream of troubling someone like that. It’s difficult enough to write with a genuine, researched question. I always worry that I’m bothering someone.

    Thank you for maintaining this site. It’s always been useful, even more so during the past year, as I (and many) are researching without regular library access.

    I hope to have some things to report to you soon, but must wait for the official launch date.

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