Column: Risk Management

Drawing the Line

By: | February 19, 2015

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Very early in my career I had the privilege to lunch with H. Felix Kloman. Kloman is known to many of us in the risk management community as a long-time student and commentator of the risk management discipline. He was for 33 years the editor and publisher of Risk Management Reports.

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Over lunch, we exchanged new ideas on Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), its inherent challenges and novel methods. One thing is true about Kloman’s communication: he says it how it is. I have a lot of respect for him for that. It takes a lot of courage scribing your ideas — some popular, some not — for all to read and judge.

That day, he said something to me that was very powerful: “nothing becomes true until you write it down.” He then encouraged me to write throughout my career.
Often I think of what he said. I have come to hold in the highest regard the power of the written word.

I guess the challenge here is the risk identification and assessment of words that could incite harmful actions. It can be a complex equation with often sensitive cultural dynamics and paradigms.

Daily I am reminded of that power. As I write this column I am very conscious of the message I want to relate. I consider if my message will be deemed as educational or condescending.

Will my message be read as a rant? Will my message try to corroborate issues felt by others in my profession? Will my message provoke a debate with my readers? And most importantly to me, I consider if my message may offend unnecessarily?

The risk of writing became very real to me as I watched coverage of the horrific murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. The event made me seriously reflect on the real risks inherent with freedom of speech.

The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression from government interference. Anyone who has an opinion has a right to voice it. People risk their lives and die for that right.

I consider the late Stéphane Charbonnier from Charlie Hebdo who said: “I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.”

Writing is risky. Ask any and all editors. Editorial decisions are made word by word, nuance by nuance, delicately assessing if a piece is a fair and honest commentary based on fact and not malice. Is the piece possibly defamatory or infringing? When it comes to matters of public interest, is the communication responsible?

Is being responsible with our words considered an infringement on our freedom of speech? Are we creating unnecessary risk by at times speaking irresponsibly?
In many ways as a society, we have already drawn the line when it comes to “free” speech. We’ve agreed to exceptions and bounds on our freedom of speech.

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Namely, we don’t have the right to say things that could “incite action to harm others or an immediate breach of the peace” — such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

I guess the challenge here is the risk identification and assessment of words that could incite harmful actions. It can be a complex equation with often sensitive cultural dynamics and paradigms.

Here’s the question I struggle with: if we know that certain words have incited harm to others, do we or do we not draw a line? As they say, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and “with such power comes responsibility.”

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]