Lately there’s been a lot–a LOT–of rudeness in online discussion, at least in the online discussions I sometimes find myself involved in, those in and around the comics industry. Let’s face it, when you’re talking to a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that actual human beings with feelings and mothers might be on the other side of it somewhere. And it’s even easier to forget that being insensitive, rude, or crass rarely accomplishes anything, it’s rarely actually USEFUL except in the most basic, lizard-brain sort of way.
I’m as guilty as anyone, and maybe more guilty than some. But in the interest of classing my own act up, and maybe mayyyyybbeeeee classing yours up a little bit too, I’d like to suggest a few simple ideas that might cool down our passionate chest-thumping ardor some. Or even just lower your blood pressure a little bit.
1) Let’s agree that no one in the world is all right or all wrong.
Think about it. That is some true ess right there. It’s not so much that chances are high that you’re wrong–it’s more that chances are high that you’re less right than you think. So when you talk like you’re all right.. well, you can see how that might be a block to things.
This is a trap I myself fall into all the time, both online and in the real world. You get so attached to the idea of being “right” that you lose your intellectual capacity to learn, to react to new data, new ideas with a mind capable of learning. At that point, almost without exception, any real benefit to you that discussion might have held disappears.
A corollary: if “I am right” becomes your principle point in an argument, just leave the argument. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses–you are already losing at that point.
2) Pretend for a moment that, regardless of who IS right or wrong, your opinion isn’t that important in the scheme of things.
You and I are two of nearly seven billion people on a small planet which at any time could be pulverized by an asteroid, with literally zero warning. In the scheme of things, our argument over who wins in a Hulk/Superman fight underwater just doesn’t mean that much.
I’m not saying we should give up all arguments because death is around the corner–but maybe we should comport ourselves as if those arguments are somewhat less important than we may be treating them. I mean, unless we’re talking about curing cancer or feeding children or something, it’s probably not a very important argument. This would apply to pretty much 1000% of comic book arguments online, honestly.
3) How you do things isn’t necessarily how everyone else does things.
There are a lot of different ways to get to a lot of the same places. Arguing about the route will seem silly once you get there. Respect that other people have their own opinions, their own methods, their own preferences.
And for god’s sake, if something you’re doing makes someone uncomfortable, just stop. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if you disagree, even if you feel perfectly entitled as a Member In Good Standing Of The Internet (MIGSOTI) to impose your own style, don’t. Respect other people’s space and preferences and humanity. which reminds me:
4) Everyone you talk to is a human being.
Even if they don’t always seem like it, they are human and deserve some small measure of consideration just for that. People might come off big or tough or whatever, but odds are they’re someone with regular problems like you, who eat and sleep and poop and love like you do, and who make mistakes and say dumb stuff they don’t mean sometimes, just like you do.
And regardless of all that, thinking of people’s feelings, even if they’re not thinking of yours, is just easier. Not even out of kindness, or even class–it’s just easier. Whatever conversation you’re a part of, you would probably prefer it remain an actual conversation, rather than some penis-comparison contest or semantics showdown. Treating people with dignity pays real dividends, not only in the larger, more important sense, but in a pragmatic, this-conversation-can-still-have-value sense.
5) Use your real name.
Seriously. And if you run a site or have a blog or whatever, insist that the people who take part in discussions do the same. Unless you’re endangered somehow by revealing your identity, everything you say will mean more if it’s YOU that’s saying it. Come out of the shadows, quit snarking away, shad0wsnarker_2000! Commenting anonymously says two things: 1) that you do not stand behind whatever it is that you’re saying; and 2) that your comment is little more than a noisy distraction from whatever the adults are discussing. If you have something to say that’s worth saying, it’s worth attaching your identity to it, along with the respect and responsibility that identity brings with it.
There’s something to be said for clear, honest, direct discussion between intelligent people. You don’t want to turn into some querulous namby-pamby, genuflecting before you make any point of any real import online. But sometimes people get excited. I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest pretending that whomever you’re addressing is actually sitting across from you at a table, breathing your same air. It changes the responsibility a little bit, you know? We’re all of us real live people, not just pixels and emoticons and clever screen names.