This week I’d like to share a story that highlights a very important lesson – one that you can hopefully learn the easy way, not the hard way, by reading further…

The other day, I was eating lunch in the cafeteria, and two other ladies whom I didn’t know sat next to me at the table. Normally, I wouldn’t think anything of this, but their conversation caught my attention, and because they were sitting right next to me, I couldn’t help but overhear what they were saying… and it wasn’t very nice.

They were making comments about another investigator at our institution – a highly respected investigator I might add! However, they couldn’t understand how this PI could receive so much funding and so many accolades for working on something “as stupid as an insect.” (Drosophila melanogaster). Furthermore, they commented that, “it was a waste of money to spend research funds on insects. No one cares if bugs live happy lives. We should be spending our money on research that impacts our patients.”

First of all, these ladies demonstrated a great deal of ignorance here, as the PI in question isn’t on a mission to better the lives of average fruit flies. Rather, this PI simply uses Drosophila as a model system to perform research that would otherwise be unethical if human subjects were used. So, contrary to their beliefs, this work DOES impact patients, just not as directly as they would prefer, it seems.

The other thing these ladies failed to realize was that I found their comments incredibly insulting. They had no idea that for my graduate work, I used Drosophila as a model for many congenital myopathies and muscular dystrophies because, believe it or not, the basic myofiber is directly conserved from flies to humans. Four papers later, my graduate work greatly expanded our knowledge of muscle disease etiology and improved diagnostics – for humans.

However, whether or not the use of Drosophila as a model organism is justifiably fundable is not the issue here.

The point of this story is that these ladies believed they were speaking freely with each other out of earshot of anyone they may insult with their words… and they couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption.

For whatever reason, they assumed I had no idea what or whom they were talking about. They assumed I either wouldn’t be offended by their comments or that maybe I would agree with them, thinking studies in Drosophila were stupid and pointless. Well, they assumed incorrectly, and this is why making assumptions is generally a bad practice.

So, why highlight this story? What is the lesson to be learned here?

Let’s switch up the roles…

Let’s say you and a friend had unknowingly sat down to eat lunch next to the CEO of DreamJobX Company Inc. The person you’re sitting next to may not look like a CEO, but how can you know for sure?

You can’t. Period.

Since you can never tell who is who or who knows who (for example, maybe your comments don’t offend that person, but they do offend someone they know…), you should never ever speak poorly of someone or something in a public place. Just because you don’t know the people around you, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. And keep in mind that they can probably figure out who you are and form a negative opinion of you VERY quickly.

For example… these ladies?… They were wearing Yale IDs on the lapels of their coats. I was able to quickly and discretely read their nametags, Google them on my phone, and know exactly who they are, what department they work in, who they work with, and deduce what they do for living. Additionally, I now know their true opinions on Drosophila research… and subsequently, I have lost respect for them despite their many accomplishments.

Likewise, the unknown guest at your lunch table can do the same type of sleuth work very quickly to figure out who you are, so watch what you say in their presence.

You are welcome to your opinions but be aware that if your opinions offend someone who could possibly hire you in the future, you most certainly will not get the job if they’ve overheard your comments (or get wind of your comments from someone else!).

If you really need to express your negative or offensive opinions, find a safe place that is truly private. My friends and I had this understanding when we were growing up… we called it: “Car Talk.” If someone declared, “Car Talk!” it meant that we needed to have a conversation in a car with the windows rolled up while driving somewhere so that no one could eavesdrop on our conversation. It’s a skill that we thankfully learned the value of at a very young age because the principle still applies now that we’re older.

The moral of the story is that if you do not have something nice or complimentary to say about someone or something, it is not advisable to discuss it in public, or anywhere that someone may overhear you.

It would be a shame to miss out on a great opportunity because of a comment you made in confidence to a close friend when you thought no one else was listening.

Be mindful of who’s around and who might be listening to your conversations. You never know where, or with whom, your next opportunity lies.


** Have you had a similar experience? Share it with us! **

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