Tuesday, June 26, 2018

being a good citizen and belonging

There's a discussion underway in Sweden that has some similarities in the USA. It's that one about "who is a true citizen" or "who is a real Swede". You see, there will be governmental voting times in Sweden in September so the election speak is ramping up. Like a few other times the debate has been relit in terms of "distinguishing who is really a Swede". If you aren't familiar with the arguments and the issues, a lot of the arguments stem from a wish to distinguish between "Swedish citizens" and "real Swedes" (that would be the ethnicity and sometimes linked to cultural nation).

Some of this stems from one of the now largest parties in the politics, the Swedish Democrats (let's all remember what Hitler's party was called, and what the full name of China is, before you think that the democrat in the name means anything), that have written a few notes about "being Swedish" in their party program. Not only do they distinguish between "real Swedes" and "Swedish citizens", they also introduce the idea that you can be born Swedish and then move away (assimilate to another culture) or express views that aren't correct for Swedes and therefore lose your right to being Swedish.

Why I'm bringing this up here? Not only because I am at risk of falling in this "third category" (after all, I've lived away from Sweden for over a decade), but also because this discussion about citizen, citizenship and "being a true member of the nation" has been present in my life here in the USA for a while.

I do feel like people who have never moved across borders, by free will or due to coercion, don't really understand the restrictions and privilege that exist on citizenship and residency. You see, I know a lot of people who would be quite alright with not becoming a citizen yet staying in a country and integrate and be a productive member of society. However, a lot of rights in a country comes from being a citizen. Not to mention that if you have children, there is a clear advantage of being of same citizenship (especially now when people are placing even more value on the citizenship status). I know that in the USA you swear allegiance to the flag. That's not the case in Sweden. To be quite frank, that is one of the issues in Sweden - very complicated to sort out "what defines us as Swedes" and one of the reasons I think the discussion there is even more into the aryan/blond&blue eye territory...

Anyhow, not to make this a very long rant leading nowhere. My main issues with this "defining who is a real citizen" goes to that the only binary choice here is "are you a citizen or not". Once you start with the "you should have a mom and dad born there and there" or "you are only real if you can trace three generations of the citizens", or "you can't be a member of a Native Indian tribe/Sami nation and be a true American/Swede" it's very obvious that you will end up in the gray zone. When is enough enough? When are you not fitting into the narrative? And who gets to decide that? And what rights fall within the protection of being a true citizen?

All of this was of course much easier when there was an all powerful King or Emperor (or Dictator) ruling the nation. One word of decision, no gray zone since He decided it all. And your rights weren't really that many. Not even your life to be honest. Not many protections in place.

The problem now? That we have decided we like democracy and have moved towards "everyone has equal value and a few base rights called Human Rights" so this view isn't really as comfortable.

However, as many women I've met through the years who were active in the women's movement are quick to repeat, none of these steps forward have been free. And none of these steps forward will stay there unless we are willing to still defend them. We can't step back and say "look, we decided that everyone has human rights, regardless of citizenship so can we leave that now and keep moving forward". I would love to that we could do that, imagine how much we could accomplish. Alas, that is not where we are. We need to keep reminding everyone that "just being human" means that everyone has "human rights". There is no distinction between human 1 and human 2, based on citizenship or religion or political views, not when it comes to these rights.

Especially in the light of a language that is increasingly talking about "being taken over","attacked" and "infested" it's crucial to remember to speak up that Human Rights are not negotiable. Not even for people who have despicable views or threaten us. Why? Mainly because you never know when you will be "on the other side" and then not have any rights. Safeguarding the nation, one human rights at a time. Considering that, the discussion about "being a true good citizen" becomes something much more somber and threatening to all of us.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"it only takes a minute" - does it really?

I hear it quite often, "it only takes a minute, just write them an email". But does it really?

In my job a lot of my time is spent with emails; reading them and writing them. I keep my inbox as a "task list" and mark the emails in a few different categories to keep track of what I need to do, follow up on and so on. In short, I read a lot of emails every day. I also write a lot of emails every day.

Here's the rub. I read a lot of emails that leaves me with "what does the person want [from me]?". When you get one of those emails it goes one of two ways; you read it and then go - I don't know what they mean, and reply back "I'm not sure what you mean, please elaborate", or you just leave it there and think "I'll read it again later and maybe it makes sense". The latter usually means that the email goes to die in the inbox until the person who wrote it follows up, or if that doesn't happen, it will get deleted and never seen again.

Brevity will always (with a few exceptions) be preferred. And then indicates "choosing your words and way of writing carefully". It's hard to do in a short time frame. You get better with practice. And practice takes time.

Before starting this job I was trained in writing proper letters, with salutations and paragraphs and proper endings. I have written memorandums for government and universities, for foreign communications and domestic law disputes. It's been an evolution in how I write emails, and to whom and why. I personally like to have a salutation in the beginning of an email, it probably dates me and it indicates that I view emails as "a letter rather than a text". This is not to say I don't write certain emails as texts
[empty row]
"sounds good."
[end email])

My default setting when writing an email though is
[start email]
"Dear Dr X," or "Hello Anna," or in certain cases when I am ambivalent on which level I should place myself "Hello, "
[keep going in the email].

The meat comes after the salutation (or not). And most times I would like to ask people "what's your purpose of writing the email"? It sounds simple, however when you unfold the idea it can turn quite tricky. Especially (?) in the times when constructing proper sentences and choosing correct words seem to more and more difficult. And this is not even getting into the "quick reply to show that you are on top of your emails" (please consider "what's the purpose of the email" when doing that as well. Quick response isn't always the best response).

If it is writing to someone you don't know, or who might not know exactly who you are but know either your organisation or your lab group, please start with a one lines introducing yourself in context to why you write to them. It shouldn't be too cumbersome or complicated "I work with Dr XX at Institute for awesomeness. I'm writing to you to ask for reagents described in you fab paper in journal of Fantasticness. We have worked on P for quite some time...."

A lot of people don't want to sound too demanding when asking for things, they start adding a couple of disclaimers in their emails. After a few of those, you're confused and it's hard to sort out what it is exactly that the person wants. In these cases I emphasize "be direct and clear without being rude". This is where finesse comes in. You have to know how to use please and thank you, and how to make at least one point about why the intended respondent is important/good/needed/positive word.

Also, adding some sort of time line when asking for something makes the email more likely to be responded to. A lot of things today fall in two categories, right now or later (never). It's the signs of us being so stressed and focused on the chores for today, also called being in a reactive mode. The chance of someone responding to your email, albeit later, increases a lot if you have a time limit in there. Why? Because if there isn't one and someone reads your email after a week, they might decided that "this was too long ago anyway so I am just going to ignore it".

Lastly, review the length of the email. For a lot of people email is not the best way to elaborate and make wordy tropes. If you end up with a long email (say six paragraphs and more than a page long) I would suggest you set up a meeting, type of the idea into bullet points, and then summarize in a memo that can be reviewed. If you have a four paragraph email, let's hope you made each paragraph 2-3 sentences.And whenever you have several things you want to address in one email.... either divvy them up between paragraphs or between emails if possible (too many things in one can lead to confusion), and consider making a bullet point/numbered list. When used properly, bullet points/numbers are efficient to make the text clearer and at the same time keeping short yet feeling spacious.

There are a lot of other things to consider when writing the perfect email, my main idea with this post was to point out that even a short "easy" email might take some time to craft. And that it is always a good idea to reread the email before sending it and ask yourself "is it clear, concise and easy to read?". If not, tweak and repeat.
TLDR: Many emails I read are too long and not precise enough. The chance of your email being received well and answered increases if it is short, precise and polite. This usually takes more than a minute. It will be worth the time to craft a good email.