The Kelly Blazek Kerfuffle, Walt Disney, And Second Chances

Add this to the list of things I’ve been thinking about but haven’t reached a conclusion—whether the “fall” of Kelly Blazek is a good thing or a bad thing for our civilization.

For those of you who haven’t followed the news: Kelly Blazek is a professional woman in Cleveland, OH that runs a job bank with over 7,000 contacts. For most of her life, she has enjoyed an impeccable reputation for helping job seekers find work and for being someone whose job has truly improved the welfare of others. Although, until a week ago, 99.99% of Americans did not know who she was, she could go to bed at night knowing that her work made her a net benefit to our civilization.

That reputation took a hit when she encountered a recent college graduate through e-mail named Diana Mekota. Diana had recently graduated from Brandeis, was moving to Cleveland, and reached out to Kelly for a job.

You can find the specifics of Kelly’s e-mail easily throughout the internet, but the general gist was this: Kelly ridiculed Diana for reaching out to a “senior professional”, called her an “entitled millennial”, and made snarky, holier-than-thou comments of the “how dare you contact me”, “don’t ever contact me again”, “good luck finding work through another job bank in Cleveland—oh wait, there isn’t one” variety. It was a very mean-spirited and harsh response to a young woman in a new town just trying to find a way to survive and make a living.

After receiving this e-mail, Diana decided to post the story on Facebook, Reddit, and Imgur, causing Kelly’s e-mail to get picked up by CNN, The New York Times, the BBC, and so on. The subsequent reaction against Kelly was so quick and fierce that she has chosen to delete her personal Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, as well as return her “Communicator of the Year” award that she had recently won in 2013.

As a quick aside, this post could have just as easily been about Diana as Kelly. When someone is mean to you, is it right to hold that person out for public humiliation? Will it now be fair game for Cleveland employers to decline to hire Diana on the grounds that they don’t want someone who leaks bad information to the public within ten feet of their offices?

But the questions raised about the reaction to Kelly’s e-mail creates more fertile soil for debate. Stories about online mobs with a thirst for reputational crucifixion encourages us to take a moment to stop and reflect on this question: Should we be comfortable with this trend towards permanent reputational harm that spreads quickly and substantially diminishes the chances for personal recovery?

The obvious benefit of blogs, YouTube, text messaging, and phone videos is that bad behavior can be corrected immediately. If a restaurant in North Dakota refuses to serve Catholics, everyone will know about it immediately. If you call an Asian a racially insensitive name and someone captures it on camera, you will be nationally ridiculed immediately. This incentivizes us to act “good”; perhaps not necessarily because we are good, but because the reputational damage of acting otherwise aligns “good behavior” with our own self-interest.

After all, do you think anyone running a job bank is going to send a nasty e-mail to an inquisitive applicant anytime soon? Wouldn’t it be much more difficult to modify the behavior of someone in power who’s acting too big for their britches in a pre-internet world?

The problems caused, though, by the ability to turn the low side of daily life into national news may perhaps be greater. Isn’t the ridicule of hundreds of thousands of people an excessive reaction to an insensitive e-mail sent to a stranger? How right is it that Kelly Blazek, who very well may be a great person 9,999 days out of 10,000, has now been marked with a modern version of “The Scarlet Letter” by reading tales of international mocking anytime she googles her name for the rest of her life? Does something about America get lost when we remove the option that a person can screw up, repent, and then build a successful life after learning his or her lesson?

I keep thinking about the story of Walt Disney. When he was 24 or 25, he was sitting by a bus-stop at Union Station in St. Louis, crying, believing that his life was a failure. He had borrowed money that he could not pay back, he had made promises that he could not keep, and he had grown disgraced as a businessmen and artist in Missouri at only the one-third marker of his life. Fortunately for him, he was able to pick up his things and head west to California, and sow the seeds of what would become the great Walt Disney Empire. If our instant, search-engine driven media had existed in Walt Disney’s day, that trail of failure in Missouri would have followed him the rest of his life. Without a clean slate and an unrestricted second chance, there’d be no Snow White, no Lion King, no Mickey Mouse, no family vacations to Epcot, no artists spending careers creating cartoons in the studio, no voice-over actors becoming immortalized on the big screen, no shareholders of Disney receiving 13% annual returns for a half-century and reaching financial independence on a $10,000 Disney investment held for decades, no movies created that bind together generations, and no tax payments by Disney shareholders and the corporation itself used to service the needs of our nation.

Is the benefit created by highlighting and stopping the egregious behavior of particular individuals enough to offset the economic and psychological consequences of making it damn hard to get a clean shot at redemption—or, at least, a personal reinvention—if you tick off the wrong person with a smartphone aimed in your direction?

Originally posted 2014-03-08 01:04:58.

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6 thoughts on “The Kelly Blazek Kerfuffle, Walt Disney, And Second Chances

  1. EricRasbold says:

    Glad to have you back and that is a damn good consideration. The permanence of the Internet is, well – pretty permanent. I think it sucks that an online rep can, in theory, follow you forever, but I wonder if the good results of that scrutiny will end up a net benefit to the human experience. I think this may be the actualization of the old premise that one should not do a thing in secret out of shame. Or even the more general rule of just not being a prick. 

    In time, if this form of public shaming really gets out of hand, people will probably hold its pertinence and even its validity in lower regard. Even so, we are going to find out. I can’t really foresee any censoring being successful or tolerated.  

    You spoke of personal lives remaining private from public in last article. I do  not think they should be so separate, especially in matters of trust where leaders are concerned be they economic or political ones. When some egregious act is committed by one of them of a nature that violates the basic social contract; murder, fraud, adultery, etc… then I think it is prudent that those who may be under their influence in some way be made aware. A betrayal of trust on any level would color  everything they say or do in people’s minds and it should. The knowledge gives insight as to their underlying values and helps the investor or the voter make intelligent decisions that align with their own values and interests.

    oh, yeah….LONG KMI

  2. innerscorecard says:

    The thing about Blazek is that others have come forward saying that she acted the same way to them as well. So in this case, the sample was representative of the set.

  3. Kevin says:

    “As a quick aside, this post could have just as easily been about Diana as Kelly. When someone is mean to you, is it right to hold that person out for public humiliation? Will it now be fair game for Cleveland employers to decline to hire Diana on the grounds that they don’t want someone who leaks bad information to the public within ten feet of their offices?”

    If someone runs the only job bank in Cleveland reacted that way, it absolutely should be known by the public. Should someone need to be a reporter or go through one to disseminate information that is helpful and useful to the public?

    “How right is it that Kelly Blazek, who very well may be a great person 9,999 days out of 10,000..”

    This doesn’t seem like a very good point. It’s easier to be rude when you’re having a bad day, yeah, but the email she sent doesn’t seem to be of that sort. She very clearly made it her goal to abuse the person who emailed her and make her feel small and awful and sad. When a good person is having a bad day, it’s understandable if they’re short. It’s not understandable to act in an abusive manner and attempt to denigrate someone else in order to feel better about themselves. That’s not what a good person having a bad day does, that’s what a bad, petty, insecure person does who finally let their mask drop.

    Sure, Kelly Blazek shouldn’t be crucified, but don’t pretend like she was some kind of saint who was having a bad day. If she truly was someone deserving of an award for their communication skills, she never would have written that email, let alone sent it. She’s someone who was faking and lying her way through life and ended up getting exposed. There are other things I choose to worry about in the world than people being disproportionately punished for being seen as they really are.

  4. Damian Rush says:

    Kelly Blazek was routinely abusive like this to younger, and as she perceived, “more attractive” professional women. She did not treat male jobseekers with anything like this level of petulance and vitriol. She specifically went out of her way to attack and demean and do serious professional harm to young women she perceived as a threat to her. Many such cases, sad. Women have no business being put in positions of power and authority over men OR over other women, and anyone who disagrees should have to work under Kelly for a few weeks to cure them of their delusions.

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