Saturday, 7 March 2015

"You should not have asked that question"

came the complaint on a list I read. The question was asked by one of the moderators and an explanation about why the question was being asked was also given. There was no requirement of compulsion to answer - also made clear - and there was also the opportunity to answer "off-list". Still, someone objected. 
This person, who claimed to be a professional in the area of disability, was the only person who objected.
The question was "are you housebound?" It was asked because some funding to keep the list going might depend on it. In the circumstances it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask - unless apparently you are a member of the ultra politically correct brigade. In this instance the question came from Europe and, as I understand the law in that particular part of the world, it was legal to ask it. I don't know the legislation in every part of the world but I know that putting such a question here is fraught with difficulty - even when there is good reason to ask the question.
There are other questions you are not supposed to ask now either. You are not supposed to ask young mothers about child-care arrangements or ask about someone's marital status.  But, why not?
One of my nephews has just been "head-hunted" by a very big company - and I mean very big. He listened very carefully to what they were offering him. They were not offering to pay him quite as much as he was already earning but they were offering a "free" child care place instead. They didn't ask whether he had children. Someone had done their homework and found out what his circumstances were. 
Would he have been happy to answer a question about child-care arrangements? Yes. His argument is that the company is employing him to do a job - not to take time off to care for his children. His wife is employed to do her job - not to take time off to care for her children. 
Marital status can matter too. The Whirlwind's father goes away quite frequently. It is part of his job. When he does the Whirlwind may need to stay at school for the weekend. During school holiday periods the Whirlwind needs to stay with friends if he has to go away. His employer, the government, needs to know he is a single father and give him time to make the arrangements. 
I don't think those questions need to be intrusive they should be asked in the spirit of, "That's your situation. How can we help you to do your job?" or "Are you likely to need time off to care for a sick child and, if so, are you prepared to do some work from home?"
And if there is funding specifically to help a certain group then yes, the question should be asked. 
A lot of people answered the question which was put about being housebound. According to the moderator some answered her privately but others appeared to willingly admit they were housebound. They also made it clear that the list meant a lot to them because of their status. It made me think differently about the list as well.
There are questions we should not ask in some circumstances because they are unnecessary and obtrusive. Is it possible however that there are times when the same questions should be asked - asked in the spirit of "How can we help you?"

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