Do I Set The Record Straight On Misinformation?

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Dear Miriam,

At my recent office holiday party, I happened to overhear one of my few fellow Jewish coworkers telling another (non-Jewish) colleague some information about Judaism that was untrue. I eavesdropped longer than was strictly socially acceptable to be sure that I wasn’t mishearing something. Sadly, I was hearing correctly, and it was the information that was incorrect. I didn’t get involved at the time, but now, after the fact, I’m wondering if I can set the record straight with either of the people involved in this conversation. What do you think?


Awkwardly Overheard

Dear Awkwardly,

Well done for not stepping in at a holiday party to correct your coworker! Of course, there are circumstances where a correction is easier (someone’s name, your own birthdate) and circumstances where it’s harder but absolutely necessary (racism, misogyny, bigotry of any kind), but this falls in the nebulous area of “not correctable in the moment but hard to let slide.” 

Unfortunately for your sense of rightness, I suggest you continue to let it slide. If you had been part of the conversation directly, you could have stepped in at the moment with a correction. If you’d been part of the conversation, you could even follow up afterwards with more information. But now, to reach out and say, “I overheard you tell Chris at the party that Purim is in December, and I wanted to let you know it’s actually in February or March,” becomes a situation where you look like the person doing something wrong. The information itself becomes less important than the boundaries you’re crossing.

Reaching out to the non-Jewish person in the conversation is also problematic. To say, “I heard Dave tell you that there are ten candles on a menorah. Actually there are nine, and here’s what a shamash is,” first calls attention to something that, most likely Chris has already forgotten and further, makes Dave look bad with no real upside. “But,” you may be thinking, “there are so few Jews around the office, and I have a responsibility to be a resource!” That may be true in some situations, namely when someone asks you a question or invites your feedback. In this case, your relationship with your coworkers is more important than a misinformed comment at a party.

Back to my earlier categories, though: If you overheard a comment about Judaism that was in any way offensive, inappropriate, or antisemitic, getting involved would be the right thing to do. If it came to this, you could have stepped in at the time, reached out to the people involved afterward, or, depending on your office culture, contacted someone in HR. In a social climate ripe with misinformation, differentiating between comments that are harmful and comments you can ignore is certainly a challenge. In the future, if you must, you can drop some Jewish facts into conversation with these coworkers, but in the meantime, you’ve done the right thing and can continue to do so by saying nothing. 

Be well,