Dear Adam Smith: An Uncollegial Colleague

theory of moral sentiments dear adam smith of self-command

Colleagues Behaving Badly? Adam Smith Suggests Self-Command
Dear Adam Smith, 

A colleague, that I also considered a friend, has embarrassed me publicly and I fear he has harmed my reputation. I desire to maintain a professional relationship with him, but I am loath to interact with him now. I even have difficulty keeping silent when his name comes up casually in conversation because I am so anxious to exonerate myself by criticizing him. 

What should I do? 
-An uncollegial colleague

Dear Uncollegial, 

It is better to have an injustice done to you than to perpetuate an injustice upon others. While furious anger is often difficult to restrain even for a single moment, if the content of your colleagues’ embarrassing disclosure is false, those who know you well will recognize it as such. Those who are uncertain but fair, will seek you out to learn the truth of the case. Ungenerous or small-minded people who believe your colleague uncritically should not overly concern you. 

The man who preserves his tranquility unaltered, and suffers no word, no gesture to escape him which does not perfectly accord with the feelings of the most indifferent spectator, necessarily commands a very high degree of admiration. If your conduct has been right, you should rest assured in that and do not dwell on the possibility of future and uncertain harms. Your own conduct, habits, and associations will assure others, if they are wise and judicious. 

Can there be any shame in that distress which is brought upon us without any fault of our own, and in which we behave with perfect propriety? There cannot. 

If your own conduct has not been right, it is there you should focus, and not on the errors of your colleague. 

I, too, know how hard it is to always be amiable. Once a colleague I considered a close friend plagiarized me and refused to admit it or apologize. This damaged our relationship for many years! However, in the end, we were reconciled. 

The nobleness of pardoning appears, upon many occasions, superior even to the most perfect propriety of resenting. The man who can cast away animosity, and act with confidence and cordiality towards a person who has grievously offended him, merits our admiration. If you wish to meditate more on these thoughts, I suggest you read, ”Of Self-command,” Section III of Part 4 of my Theory of Moral Sentiments which has a more extended discussion. 

Yours in Fellow-Feeling,

Mr. Smith 

P.S. You might also find some inspiration in my previous reply to Jr. High is Literally the WORST as, alas, the tribulations of adults are not as different from those of children, though we sometimes imagine they are. 

Editor's Note: Letters to the "Dear Adam Smith" column are not, of course, answered by Adam Smith. He died in 1790. Letters are answered by Sarah Skwire, Caroline Breashears, Janet Bufton, and Christy Lynn. Advice is for the purposes of amusement and education about Smith's thought. We do our best, but caveat emptor and follow our advice at your own risk.