Declining Civility

March 31, 2004 | 12 comments
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I have been saddened to read some of the comments on recent posts. Disagreeing is one thing; personal attacks, mocking, and belittling are quite another.

We need to do better than this. There is no point in winning our argument if we lose our charity. A few observations:

(1) Tone is virtually impossible to determine in a comment. The facial gestures and tone of voice that would moderate spoken language are missing. Be careful.

(2) What is your goal? If it is to convince someone of the validity of your position, straw man arguments, personal attacks, crying ‘intellectualism’, and dismissing people as heretics isn’t going to work.

“only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

(3) It would be nice if we could admit mistakes, or when others have helped us clarify our thinking, instead of hiding behind “what I meant was . . .”

(4) I don’t wish to be melodramatic, but I think we might be in danger of ruining T & S. No one wants to read a blog full of vitriol. I think most of us are here for fresh ideas and perspectives.

Play nice, kids.

12 Responses to Declining Civility

  1. Nate Oman on March 31, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    We should all eat more carrots!

  2. Steve Evans on March 31, 2004 at 5:41 pm

    Julie, thanks for the reminder. While I’ve sworn off apologizing (or admitting mistakes), I’d like to be a little nicer and more tolerant. Maybe this is why our 3-hour Church meetings don’t get as in-depth… sure works to avoid contention!

  3. Dave on March 31, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    Timely comments, Julie. I did a quick check of my own recent comments, and I think I’ve managed to keep my ugly side pretty much bottled up lately (whew).

    On the other hand, when visitors drop in who are used to bulletin board verbal bullying and namecalling rather than the pleasant and enlightening discussions seen here at T&S, that creates some tension, I think.

    Maybe it’s time to prominently post a “How We Do Things Around Here” message at the top of the page. You can even throw in the carrots.

  4. Karen on March 31, 2004 at 6:45 pm

    Julie,

    Thanks for the reminder. I think we all needed it.

    I really think that civility is a social lubricant, and that incivility often goes hand in hand with ineffectiveness. I’ve seen this in business and academic relationships repeatedly. (Of course, in a business or academic relationship, you can’t resort to gentle reminders from the scriptures, so hooray for that particular tool on this site.) I think we all have a lot to learn from each othere here, and it would be a shame if the tone of our posts interfered with that opportunity.

  5. Ivan Wolfe on March 31, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    No, Nate – it’s lizard meat. We all need to eat more lizard meat. That’s the reason for the decline in civility.

    It tell you – we all eat more lizard meat and we’ll have peace on earth.

    ;=)

  6. John David Payne on April 1, 2004 at 1:35 am

    Julie, you’re right. I’ll make the effort to do better.

  7. Bob Caswell on April 1, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Julie,

    I’ve been busy and haven’t kept as up-to-date with T&S in the last week. You mind filling me in with what I missed? Which posts do I need to read to find the controversy?

  8. Adam Greenwood on April 1, 2004 at 11:49 am

    It hardly needs said that, on those rare occasions when my placid demeanor doesn’t quite translate into print, I would appreciate an email.

  9. Julie in Austin on April 1, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    Bob–

    I dont’ want to point fingers (YOU! Over there!). There’s at least 2 different topics in the last few days where comments that seemed mean to me have been made by a half dozen or so people.

  10. Steve Evans on April 1, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    Bob, she’s talking about me. And Adam. Me & Adam.

    Adam, email is on its way.

  11. Bob Caswell on April 1, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks, Steve.

    Julie, I figured as much. “at least 2 different topics is the last few days” is as specific as you want to get. I feel like I’m studying for the test and you’re the teacher. You don’t want to give it away. Speaking of which, your suggestions in this post are good, but I’m always one to want more. It’s hard for me to write a research paper if all the teacher says is, “I want you to write it like this and this but not like this”. I then raise my hand, “Do you have an example for us of a good paper and a bad paper?”

    Or better yet, try explaining to me baseball and telling me how NOT to swing the bat. Heaven forbid I just watch poor swings caught on tape. This is getting to be a long comment, and I may need to post on it separately on my own blog. But for now, Julie, could you explain to me if pointing fingers is ever a good thing? I think it can be, if done carefully. But maybe we just think the risk is not worth it. After all, hurt feelings can be hard to avoid. And the subject matter is rather subjective.

    You could just write me an email (bobcaswell@fiber.net) explaining the situation so that I may better understand without wading through hundreds of comments. But then, I suppose, you’d be “gossiping”. I can’t win. This may just be the way the world works.

  12. Julie in Austin on April 1, 2004 at 7:40 pm

    Bob–

    Wanting to see the best in people, I don’t want to point to one post as an example of nastiness when perhaps the writer didn’t intend to be a jerk. Besides, it isn’t just one post, it is several.

    A rule of thumb that perhaps I should have started with: would you say this and phrase it this way if you were in this person’s living room having a friendly after-dinner conversation?

    Sorry if this isn’t helpful.

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