Saturday, September 5, 2009

Civility costs nothing...

Have humans always treated each other like Americans are treating each other? Why have we given up on gently talking to and politely listening to each other?

I was reminded of these questions the other day when I received a comment on one of the past articles posted on this blog. You may not know that when people post comments about articles, I have the ability to reject them or allow them to be posted as a comment. My job is accept all comments that I don’t agree with and would like all comments to automatically be posted.

The only two criteria I have for not allowing comments to be posted are quite reasonable. The first is some form of identification. Public discourse is not possible if you don’t know who you are talking with. Therefore, people who make comments but don’t identify themselves will not see their comment appear on the blog.

Any comments that demean other people are also rejected. This second criteria means that comments must be polite, respectful and reasonably rational. Unfortunately, the most recent comment has violated both of these standards. Before explaining this further, I’m interested in putting this comment into a broader context.

Some people think Americans have become more uncivil and rude than necessary. For example, this summer the media has reported such bad behavior in local town hall meetings. Town hall meetings have a long history in this country. They began in New England and were examples of "direct democracy" in action where people could gather to discuss and decide issues of interest such as politics and health concerns. Each person was respectfully given a chance to speak while others listened and responded.

For the most part, these town hall meetings were courteous except for vocal minorities who believed their point of view was so correct that any means justified their behavior. Shouting, pushing behavior got a few people arrested for assault. I find it hard to believe this could be called democracy in action.
We also see this rudeness on television talk shows and hear similar behavior from the so-called shock jocks. Shouting instead of listening, name-calling, making comments unsupported by the facts are becoming more common. This lack of social graces could be written off if it weren’t for the fact that it improves ratings. It improves ratings because more people are watching.

Why do so many people find this kind of interchange so fascinating? Why not watch professional wrestling or cage fighting? Are we entering a new era where we are redefining what democracy is all about? Have we become a people who want to open our screaming mouths while keeping our minds closed to opinions that bother us?

We have been a nation that has been proud of our ability to settle our differences with civility and respect (oh well, the civil war only happened once). Now, some people have even said publicly that since they have a president they didn’t vote for and don't agree with, then he deserves to die. Our country was founded on the concept of free speech but it seems that freedom of speech only belongs to those who agree with us.

Sociologists are telling us of increased incivility in the work place. This often takes the form of an intimidating boss or supervisor. These people will display angry outbursts, degrade employees publicly, and even threaten them. Research at the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion Institute in Israel found that managers who display public anger and have temper tantrums are perceived as getting better results than those managers who treat subordinates with dignity. This unacceptable bullying behavior may work — and result in promotions — because the corporate ethos often identifies these bosses as people "who gets things done."

Another more recent venue for uncouth and graceless behavior is the Internet. In years past, people would rant by sending a letter to the editor of the local newspaper but they would also identify themselves by signing their name. This way everyone could know who was saying what. Scientists are always disagreeing with one another but they are fully identified as to their speciality and academic affiliation.

With the Internet and the ease of having a platform for anyone to make their thoughts public, we are seeing a new form of rudeness and incivility called "flaming." The website WiseGeek defines flaming as,

the often deliberate act of posting or writing messages on Internet bulletin boards and message groups that have the intent of insulting or creating dissent within a group. An Internet flame is often filled with coarse language and personal insults. It is meant to hurt people’s feelings, get them fired up, and not to further conversation on a personal issue. It is never conversational, but it may be meant to upset an entire group, provoking conversation about someone’s flame
or on the practice of flaming in general.

What can make this even worse is not providing any identification by those who flame. Anonymity increases a person’s capacity for informational mischief. Anyone can put written information that consists of unsubstantiated accusations and bully tactics on the Internet and not have to take personal responsibility. The flamer can hide under a cloak of invisibility.

Even when anonymous people give criticism or feedback it can be done in a way that is not constructive. Some people believe this behavior also offers protection which would be absent if it were done in a face-to-face situation. Internet users who use cyberspace and are mean-spirited are called trolls within the Internet community.

Much more could be said about this but it brings me back to the start of this blog. As I mentioned, anonymous blogs and blogs that are disrespectful are rejected on my blog. Disagreements, no matter how severe, are encouraged. Here is what happened.

Someone who was afraid of being known publicly decided to respond to one of my blogs. They very cleverly signed their name, Anonymous. As if I wouldn’t have known this. To make matters worse, they did not even write a single thought of their own but cut and pasted the opinions of others who had a different perspective from those presented in my blog article. They used about a half dozen different sources to present their comments — I’m assuming, to present their beliefs about the matter.

Here is the disrespectful part. They sent twenty-three (yes, 23) emails beginning at 1:28 in the afternoon and continuing throughout the day into the evening. The last one was sent at 7:49 pm. The first seven were sent within the first hour.
Then twenty minutes later, it started again. Three more the next hour. Another 20 minutes went by and ten more cluttered my inbox the following hour.

Twenty-five minutes later the deluge slowed to a dribble: only two more showed up. Then two hours later the coup de grace was delivered with the twenty-third email.

My immediate reaction was the phrase running through my head about "having a life." Then I was puzzled why someone would take almost seven hours to send me quotes by other people. Talk about double anonymity. First, there is no name and then no thinking. This person is really afraid of something.

I’m still wondering what the point of these twenty-three emails was about. Was it a contest to see who could get the most people to agree on a specific point? This is the way junior high kids argue. Presenting a dissenting case does not rest on how many agree with you. It based on the evidence and rationale a person can bring to bear rather than finding people to quote.

Was this an attempt to overwhelm me with the opinions of Ph.D. writers who we all know are really smart. I was overwhelmed alright, but not as it was intended. My email box was cluttered and I had to waste my time reading this stuff.

Maybe the invisible Anonymous wanted me to feel badly for posting the article. Disappointingly, I did not drop to my knees in chagrin over having written such a bad article.

I’m almost finished with this rant. I don’t know if this person stumbled onto my blog, read one of them and was so incensed that they had to waste half a day trying to overwhelm me with the thoughts and ideas of other people.

Anonymous, if you are reading this, please don’t waste your time and my time again with such foolish antics. If you have something to say, use your own brain, name, and say it. If you are respectful I will put anything you have to say personally (except a lengthy diatribe) in the comments section.

Send me a comment, Anonymous, and tell me who you are and what you think about this article.

1 comment:

Paula Littleton said...

Well said.