If you can’t take the heat, turn into a tardigrade!

“I am a rock. I am an island”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” is a quote that is frequently attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (without sourcing). I found it for the first time while I was in middle school in a Dear Abby column and adopted it as a mantra until some point in college.  This can be a helpful coping strategy, especially in middle school, but I was definitely too enthused about it.

I flashed back to my younger self when I read Ted Seeber’s comment on my post about the campaign against Jen McCreight.

My point is that when you enter the world of online communications and flame wars (and I can’t believe I have to tell you this, let alone a supposedly “experienced blogger” like Jen) you need to check emotionalism at the door. Text is an autistic media- there is no subtext, there is no body language, any emotion you think is being transmitted is all imaginary and in your own head.

First of all, the possibly-Eleanor Roosevelt quote is not ”No one can come to your house and physically harm you or sabotage your professional career without your consent.”  Jen was getting threats, and you can’t stoic your way out of those.  (Well, you can, insofar as you cultivate an indifference to bodily harm, but I don’t think that’s what Ted or anyone else is recommending).

But let’s leave sticks and stones out for the sake of argument and just ask whether you can reconfigure yourself so that words can never hurt you.  Yeah, probably.  I’m pretty good at it, and it’s a skill I’ve leveled up over time   I just don’t think that’s a very good goal.

How do you get better at not minding vitriolic abuse?  Well, you can nurture contempt for your commenters.  Every stupid, nasty comment is a public testimonial to the suckiness of your enemies.  Your ability to endure it is bolstering your side, since the hate is self-delegitimizing!  You can cackle to yourself as your watch your enemies behave worse and worse.

Or you can cultivate indifference.  You just put writing out there, and people will do with it what they can, but their reactions are irrelevant to you.  The whooshing of the wind could never offend you, so why should you let these people’s insults have any more power over you that that?  Imagine their jibes are just the output of infinite monkeys.  Text is text, it doesn’t matter who produced it.

I’ve practised both these reactions, and they can get me over a hump, and they feel great.  I don’t feel hurt, I feel stronger than the person abusing me.  Not only did I not let them bully me, but I’ve got a chance to realize just how much better than them I am.  It feels like stepping out of the way of a punch and getting to laugh as your assailant overextends, loses his balance, and falls.  I feel light and quick and strong.  And exhilarated.

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And all of that is pretty bad for me.

I don’t want to enjoy someone else degrading themself, and I don’t want to practise thinking of humans as not-human.  My peace and pride is bought by callousing my empathy.  I’m a pretty bad compartmentalizer, so it’s hard for me to practise this contempt and indifference online and not have it spill over into my day to day life.

If you’re better at emotional code-switching than me, maybe you can pull it off, but, if not, then following Ted’s advice means wounding the part of you that can be hurt by people because you’re open to and interested in them.  It’s bad for you as a person, and bad for you as a writer, since your pieces will be more persuasive if you can model your enemies as human and write to them.  And what shall it profit a woman if she should keep her blog, but lose her love for her readers?

 

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Alex Godofsky

    Negative emotions may be generally harmful but they aren’t universally so, and contempt for morally deficient people has positive externalities.

    • Brandon B

      I assume by “positive externalities”, you mean either 1) you yourself will be less morally deficient if you have contempt for others who are morally deficient, or 2) people will be less morally deficient if they realize that it causes contempt.

      I think the case against 1) is fairly simple. Having contempt for people, rather than their actions, is enough of a bad thing to outweigh any possible side effects. I also suspect that it’s just as easy to be a hypocrite as it is to change your own behavior based on your evaluation of other people’s behavior.

      I’m not sure what to think about 2), because it’s a sociological claim, and would require more extensive data to confirm or falsify. I’m willing to stipulate that it’s true, though, because even if there is a sociological moral benefit to having contempt for “bad people”, we still have the basic error of having contempt for a person, rather than an action.

      Having contempt for a person is especially pernicious because it makes all sorts of other wrongdoing more likely. If you hate someone, you’re less likely to treat them with the respect that their inherent human dignity demands. The less regard you have for human dignity, the more likely you are to commit any kind of wrongdoing to another human, and I do mean any: insults, gossip, rape threats, theft, murder, etc.

      • leahlibresco

        Yeah, re #1, your ability to recognize that your child shouldn’t hit another kid in the sandbox with a block (and neither should you lash out at people in anger) is not impaired by the fact that you feel love, not contempt, for the kid.

      • Alex Godofsky

        Yes, I’m fully aware that assigning contempt/blame/etc. to people rather than actions has bad consequences. We have plenty of problems today because doing that leads people to decide that those held in contempt are less ‘deserving’ of happiness and such.

        BUT, shame and contempt still fulfill the vital social goal of making people unhappy when they do bad things. You aren’t actually going to find a functioning civil society that doesn’t use them to deter bad behavior.

        • leahlibresco

          blame != contempt != shame.

          • Alex Godofsky

            It’s a lot easier to shame people if you blame them for their actions and because of that feel contempt for them.

            On the margin, I agree with you that our society could do with less hating of sinners than it has now; I feel the same way about (for example) military spending, but I don’t think either should be zero.

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    Excellent post. And though I get your point about the problems with dissociation from readers, I do think I may try that “whooshing of the wind” trick on occasion. :) Your commenter’s suggestion that emotionalism should be checked at the door because text is an autistic medium makes me wonder if the same thing would be said by a female commenter about a male blogger, and calls up echoes for me of the recent debates about virtual sexual abuse experienced by women in the gamer communities. I’m not convinced it’s a gender (or more properly gender-stereotype) issue, but it does make one ponder.

    • Ted Seeber

      It would if that female is Temple Grandin. I got this insight from a post she made in 1997 on Usenet in alt.autism.

      • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

        Given that Temple Grandin is autistic herself, perhaps “text is an autistic medium” is in the eye of the beholder.

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s called an analogy. I realize certain classes of neurotypicals are extremely bad at it.

          But the point is it is not related to GENDER. The insight came from the idea that just as an autistic individual communicates without the added social cues of body language, tone of voice, and the myriad of other things that add emotional content to an otherwise bland conversation; so too does a blind terminal system. Oh, we’ve gotten a bit better since 1997- emoticons are more widely used, as is l33tsp34k- but in essence, the problem still remains that text is communication stripped of the extra data normal people call intuition.

          • leahlibresco

            But, as other people said, novels are text-based and are not stripped of subtext or emotional impact. Some things are harder to parse (which is why people use dialogue tags or hashtags or emoticons) but it is possible to write more or less ambiguously without those explicit tags.

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

    I think much of our culture assumes that suffering is the worst thing that could possibly happen. Hence Yoda’s innane line here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFnFr-DOPf8) being labled “Best Quote Ever” in various corners of the internet.

    I know I struggle with this temptation myself: to consider that bad stuff happening to me is worse than anything else. But I’m reminded of the ancient wisdom – which Plato took for granted as universally known: It is always better to suffer evil than to commit evil.

    Now, that doesn’t mean suffering is a positive good. To the contrary, I think we should avoid suffering both for ourselves and for others as much as possible – so long as this avoidance doesn’t put us into the category of committing evil. That’s where the line gets drawn.

    So Ms. McCreight’s decision makes perfect sense to me. She is committing no evil by stepping away from her blog. Indeed, she seems to be making her decision, not only to avoid suffering herself, but also to avoid the temptation to commit evil against her readers. I wish her well.

  • Irenist

    Jen’s actions are not for me to judge; I’ve never experienced such vitriol. But for you, Leah, may I suggest the “pray for your enemies” strategy? I’m about a 0th level Christian in the RPG of life, but I’ve heard from higher level PC’s it works pretty well. I think the GM smiles on it, too.

    • leahlibresco

      That’s what I try to go with, though, honestly, I don’t get that many opportunities. My commenters are aggressive but pretty well behaved.

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        It seems, based on my experience with your blog as well as others that in *most* cases, commenters tend to follow the example of the blogger, at least over the long term as the community of commenters evolves based on the content and tone of the blogger. The tragedy in Jen’s case is that a completely different community of commenters/tweeters/bloggers/etc. kept up the attack long past when a normal spat should have died a natural death. That and the extreme threats (which seem to be something with which female bloggers primarily suffer).

        It really just makes me sick what she and others have to deal with every day. Makes me almost think of praying that I keep having sons and no daughters. :(

        • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

          No, no, no! Have LOTS of daughters, and raise them to be strong and intelligent and confident and thoughtful and active in the world, thereby helping to build a world where vicious actions like that are totally unacceptable.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I think there might be a third way, sort of, that is neither being hurt by the comments nor being “better than” or aloof to the commenters. It’s just not reading the comments at all. It’s different than reading them and choosing not to care, it’s knowing that reading them will lead to no good and choosing not to go there in the first place. I’m not a blogger so I don’t totally know about the nuances of this community, but I am a muisician, so I sort of know a bit about other-people’s-opinions-on-that-which-gives-me-meaning. I have gotten to the point where I just do not read reviews. I know if I do either 1) it will be a good review and fan my ego in an unnesecary way, 2) It will be a bad, but juvenile review which I can feel superior to, fanning my ego in an unnesecary way, or 3) It will hurt my ego. Either way, I don’t want my ego anywhere near the creative, expressive part of me. I don’t want them to have anything to do with each other. And yeah, there is always a risk that retreating from comments or reviews may mean I don’t get to “connect” as well with the people I am intending to connect with. But I think not becoming a distant diva is as easy as finding and maintaining non-ego-centric ways of conecting with those people. Instead of reading their reactions to MY music, I can read their reactions to other people’s music, or I can go listen to some type of music that I just really don’t get, and try to engage it. I can let an objective friend/editor/fellow blogger/agent read all the reviews and comments for me and report back when and if I’ve really stepped over a line and might actually need that feedback to do my job better. We can set up specialized email filters or scan only for the little blue hyperlinks that allow us to recieve feedback that is thought provoking or read/listen to some new thought that expands our horizons without engaging in the whole “What does this person think about ME?” thing.

    Anyway, not sure how well this would work for a blogger… ?? How necesary is it to read every comment? How feasible would it be to have a non-partial comment reader (maybe you could swap duties and do the same for another blogger) making eachother aware of the salient points in a fraternal, objective way so you can write the next relevant post that responds to the criticism without being drawn down into it? Or is there a part that does sort of NEED to see those strong reactions and get a little angry in order to suit up for battle in the next blog? Or does it just depend on the blogger?

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      How feasible would it be to have a non-partial comment reader (maybe you could swap duties and do the same for another blogger) making eachother aware of the salient points in a fraternal, objective way so you can write the next relevant post that responds to the criticism without being drawn down into it?

      Brilliant idea.

    • Brandon B

      This may vary from blogger to blogger, but it sometimes the comments are a better/more thorough/more creative discussion of the topic at hand than the original post. Many bloggers, I know, are just writing essays and then posting them on the internet in a “fire-and-forget” fashion, but Leah, for example, takes a more conversational approach, and a lot of the good in Unequally Yoked comes from her active engagement with her commenters. Willful ignorance can work for the essayist, but not for a conversational blogger.

  • Paul

    Specifically re: the paragraph that begins “I’ve practiced both reactions…” and leaving aside completely the question of whether indifference is something worth cultivating:

    I once expressed concern to a psychologist that my interest in politics might have emotional roots in a desire for power over other people. Was that a problem, I asked him?

    His response? “And all psychologists are lonely.”

    Which is to say: everyone has emotional reasons for doing what we do. (Thank goodness!) To put it more vigorously still – if we didn’t have emotional reasons to do what we do, we wouldn’t be very good at what we do.

    I’d argue that the emotional underpinnings of behavior (the exhilaration you feel when you “win” an argument, for instance) aren’t the problem in and of themselves. They have to be interrogated in the context of their consequences – not swept under the rug. That is not to say that having certain emotions over and over again doesn’t have consequences, possibly negative ones. That is not to say that if you’re feeling triumph over and over at someone’s expense, that it doesn’t behoove you to assess what you’re doing to get those feelings. But it is to say that those feelings are drivers of our behavior at a really fundamental level, and we should *use* them – not necessarily try and stamp them out.

    Separately, I also think that practicing indifference is problematic. But wanted to dive into that one angle of your post.

  • deiseach

    Ted is correct about text being an “autistic medium”; on a fan blog, I made what I thought was an obviously joke light-hearted comment, only for someone else to interpret it as a serious criticism and indeed attack upon themselves. I was astounded at how I was misintrepeted, or how I had put myself in the way to be misinterpreted. Yes, it is necessary to back off and remind yourself “Cool down, this person may not mean what I think they mean, and even if they do, it’s better to keep your temper.”

    However, when you are dealing with someone (or several, or a lot of someones) who are making quite obvious threats – and maybe I’m just a silly female, but I fail to see how “I’d rape you” or “You should be raped” is a compliment or a joke – then I don’t think getting emotional is over-reacting. Again, on that same blog, we had the surreal experience of dealing with a guy who left a fairly reasonable comment on a particular post, then gradually morphed into full-blown craziness. I wasn’t scared – because I was on the other side of the ocean from him. If, however, I were a woman dealing with him in real life (a family member, a work colleague, a romantic partner, an ordinary woman walking down the same street) it would have been a different matter.

    He was of the firm conviction that the majority of women were “feminazis” (there’s that term again!) who were out to castrate men (and I mean quite literally, not metaphorically; apparently us feminazis were behind the Vast Medical Conspiracy to mutilate newborn males by circumsion which was – to him – even worse than female genital mutilation and we only laughed about men being raped and beaten up by domestic abuse. And those were his less ranting comments.)

    A man like that, with those opinions, being in a position to – for example – hire or fire women, give promotions, performance reviews, or just be in a work environment with women? Dealing with women on a day-to-day basis as a customer or consumer of services? Being a family member? Can you imagine being a woman and having to deal with that level of paranoia day in, day out?

  • http://themerelyreal.wordpress.com Chana Messinger

    When I get bad comments, I tend to use the strategy of empathizing with why the person is saying what they’re saying, and assuming that they made the best possible form of their argument. Is that the equivalent of “praying for your enemies”? I find that it makes me more empathetic, but also more persuasive. It keeps me caring what people think (and maintaining responsibility for what I write and how it comes across) but lets me ignore the vitriol and illogic.

  • Ted Seeber

    And then I proceeded to entirely ignore my own advice and get really snippy yesterday. Mea cupla maxima.

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  • http://Geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

    The man who lives on the corner of our cul de sac was a drug dealer as close back as 2011. I want to say he still is, but I have no evidence it is true, so I must in justice use was. I know he was in 2011, because that’s when he threatened to kill the children of everyone on the block – a chain of events which ended with his attempt to bribe a cop, his arrest, and the discovery of all the marijuana he had in his possession.
    In absolute fairness, I must say the whole incident was provoked by a group of other residents who had been drinking heavily and decided that standing on the suspected drug dealer’s lawn and yelling epithets at his house was an unexceptional idea. But instead of calling the cops to haul the drunk women off his lawn, or accepting the apologies of the slightly less drunk husbands of the women in question, he chose to escalate. Indiscriminately.
    By the end of the week, every house in that cul de sac, even those who were entirely uninvolved (like ours), owned a shotgun. (Texas.)
    Why are similar threats that occur on the Internet treated with less gravity? Why are they primarily directed to women and not men? And why do women get crap for taking them seriously? Of course they take them seriously. They aren’t insults, to be brushed off, they are threats. Threats as real as the threat to my and my neighbors’ children, and of an equally uncertain sincerity. You have to take them seriously, the consequences otherwise are dire.

    (The theoretically former drug dealer is out of jail and back at his house, but he appears to have had the fear of God put into him, because he’s afraid to even look at any of us.)

    • deiseach

      “And why do women get crap for taking them seriously?”

      In my limited experience of the phenomenon, when a woman calls a man out on what he’s said either in a post of his own or in a comment to her post, the reaction tends to go somewhat as follows (it escalates when the woman won’t cave in and say ‘Oh gee, you’re right, I’m over-reacting!’):

      (1) It was a joke! Geez, have you no sense of humour?
      (2) What are you, some kind of prude or frigid or a lesbian or something? You’ve got religious hangups about sex, don’t you?
      (3) Why are you infringing my right of free speech? This is censorship!
      (4) You hate men, don’t you? Come on, admit it: you’re a feminazi!
      (5) See, this is the kind of behaviour thatwomen indulge in, when they mock and belittle and threaten men, and then the man loses his temper and reacts, and the bitch calls the cops on him and he is the one gets thrown into jail when she started it!

      Season to taste with the usual epithets yourselves, you know the thing.

      • http://geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

        Oh I know the reactions. I played WoW for years, I know this kind of crap, although mine was a fairly decent guild full of (relatively sane) adults. I’m just saying, the extensive list of excuses you demonstrated (when adapted for the “I”m gonna kill your kids” incident) just don’t work. He threatened to kill our children. There’s no “I’m joking” “you just hate black people” “you’re infringing my free speech” excuse that makes everything okay. It was a threat, and we had no way of determining how serious he was about carrying it out.
        The same holds for internet threats. They ought to be taken every bit as seriously as our threat was, especially ones that have gone so far as to provide personal information to prove it’s possible for the threatener to carry out his threat. That they aren’t is both disturbing and telling.

        • Ted Seeber

          “They ought to be taken every bit as seriously as our threat was, especially ones that have gone so far as to provide personal information to prove it’s possible for the threatener to carry out his threat.”

          On that, I agree. “I’m going to rape you with a chainsaw” (still trying to figure that one out, sounds about as physiologically impossible as a man committing sodomy on himself) isn’t a credible threat.

          Posting somebody’s home address, phone number, and urging random crazy people to play sniper, is a credible threat that requires increased police presence in the entire county.

          Especially if you’ve got an idiot who posts the wrong address.

          • http://geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

            *sigh* your chief objection is the imprecision of their terminology? Spend some time in the cesspool that is The Barrens general chat, I’m sure you would many who could describe specific methods for your… Well, I can’t really call it edification.

          • http://geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

            Also, since this may need clarification, an instruction to do something obscene to oneself is not a threat any more than telling someone to jump off a cliff is a murder attempt, because you retain agency. We are not house elves.

    • Ted Seeber

      “Why are similar threats that occur on the Internet treated with less gravity?”

      Because in most cases, you’re not dealing with a hacker who knows where you live and can actually attack you. When you have proof that you are, that’s the point to take it seriously.

      • leahlibresco

        Nope. That requires me to do an unreasonable amount of sleuthing on the person making the threats. If someone says they’re going to come to my house and assault me, I don’t need to ask them to furnish proof (train tickets, evidence that they’re actually strong enough to overpower me, etc). It’s unacceptable speech, and it’s a credible enough threat to have a chilling effect.

        Not to mention that prominent female bloggers like Watson, Doyle, McCreight and others get too many personal threats to check out each possible assailant.

        • Ted Seeber

          How is noticing if the threat contains location information or not, or for that matter is even physically possible, unreasonable sleuthing?

          Of course if it is, then it is entirely reasonable to contract out that task- forward the e-mail to the authorities and let them worry about it.

      • http://geeklady.wordpress.com GeekLady

        *ahem* I call bull. You seem expect this harassment to exist in a vacuum, each one alone, but it doesn’t work like that. You get a bunch of yahoos harassing and threatening you. One of them thinks it’s funny to post your address, home or work. Maybe a picture of you walking home from work. Once it’s out there, it’s out there and you should assume anyone can find it. Including the nuts threatening you.
        In fact, for most of us in the sciences, our workplaces could be easily located just by revealing who the PI whose lab we work in is.
        You seem frighteningly oblivious to how the Internet works.
        My picture was in the paper my first Thanksgiving married. It listed my married name, and there must be a million women with this name in the state of Texas. Yet all that was required for a WoW guildmate to find it several years later, was the knowledge that my picture showed up in the top 100 google results for my name. He had never seen me. Once something is out there… it’s out there. For anyone to find.
        Lots of personal information can be found entirely legally, like addresses from property records. The preponderance of information available makes any threat credible. Even if they use imprecise terminology in their threats.
        Are we also required to know our drug dealer had a gun before we took his threat seriously?

  • Captain DG

    There was a time (forgive the my inexactitude) perhaps 400 years ago when one of the perceived benefits of a Christian life was the anticipated pleasure one took at gazing from Heaven into Hell to see the damned suffer. I don’t know that that attitude was wrong, but I am glad that it is not the attitude of most Christians today, except it seems on the internet!

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    But I really don’t think text is an autistic medium. It’s more like a medium that comes from a different culture: there are still cues, and some of them make sense, but others were mislead us. That is the problem. There’s at least a chance that the emotions and inflection of the interlocutor will be caricatured in the text, enough that it feels worth it to make those assumptions. This is a problem for writers as well as readers, though, probably even more so. As much as we can only be responsible for our own actions, and so must spend more time watching our readings than their writings, we should not be too harsh on ourselves if our interlocutor wrote something that really does sound offensive (even if offense was unintended) and we react with offense.
    Anyway, the other point is that there’s reasonably good evidence that repeated attempts (and they are never more than that) to suppress emotional reactions is going to end poorly. If you really want to avoid getting upset, you need to fit the interpretation that occurs before the emotional reaction; that is, you go from the evidence to a suppressed assumption (ie. because these people hate me, I am deficient, or some such thing), and that suppressed assumption is what you need to discover and excise. But in the cases of rape threats and other verbal abuse, there might be suppressed assumptions that could be excised, but a lot of the content generating the emotion (ie. there are violent misogynists who wish to do me harm) is actually quite real. The emotional reaction is therefore very appropriate.

    • Ted Seeber

      My bit is flipped the other way. It is when I fail to control my emotional response that things get out of hand quickly. Probably because I am autistic, I’m more prone to this than a neurotypical. It has affected me in my personal life where as a child bullying often led to a meltdown and to me getting either suspended or expelled from school for being “a physical threat”. It affected my dating life, where I had significant problems reading those clues you seem to take for granted.

      But here’s the really sad part- *every* flame war I’ve been in on the Internet, starts with somebody reacting inappropriately to assumptions that exist only in their own head. Every single one. And yes, it HAS descended into physical threats several times, I still don’t see the gender bias that others in this thread seem to see; I’ve had people threaten to nuke my state over things I’ve wrote. If there is a gender difference, it comes from the innate difference between the genders in how we deal with physical threats- women tend towards trying to defuse the situation to safety, men use Mutual Assured Destruction and one-upping the threat.

      I am not saying that either approach is wrong, I only note the difference between the approaches.

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        “It affected my dating life, where I had significant problems reading those clues you seem to take for granted.”
        The more I’ve learned about autism and asperger’s (I have friends so diagnosed) and the more I’ve learned about my own ability to misread social cues, the less I take these things for granted. But I agree that most neurotypicals do take cues entirely for granted, and that I probably still take them for granted most of the time. That’s actually the nice thing about text: all of the evidence is before you. No cues are irrecoverable (ie. inflection, eye contact, body language). It is easier to read things into text than speech, sure, but it is still very easy to read things into speech, and even easier to miss things.

        I realize that I am not going to convince you that there is a difference in gender. My last point, then, fully recognizing that you may not buy it, is that the difference is less in the reaction than in how seriously a man or woman should be worried about a threat. For a man, it’s probably just posturing; for a woman…not as probable. But, anyway, if there are differences between approaches, I would say immediately (and again after reflection) that the Mutual Assured Destruction one is completely madcap.

  • Maiki

    I disagree to an extent — yes, we should always read posts with the best possible tone of voice in your head, etc. etc. But text is not an autistic medium (I guess unless the writer is himself autistic). A good writer can convey intent, meaning, emotions, etc. using the plain meaning or common colloquial meaning of a text. Even a bad writer can do that. We have all felt emotions of some characters in books which the author intended, not just assumed them. Why is it suddenly different with comments? Not to mention the different subtextual clues people interleave into text, caps lock, bold, emphasis, emoticons, superfluous commas, spaces and ellipses for pause, etc.

    And there is a point where a comment is not just “well the tone *could be* hostile and offensive, but the writer might just be clueless” to “either the writer is a big fat liar or the writer is being cruel and threatening” — both of which are not pleasant to be around.

    • Ted Seeber

      You claim this, yet I see no evidence of it being accurate. In fact, every flame war I’ve been involved in has started with forgetting that you have to do something (interpret the words) to get the emotionalism, and that the emotionalism does NOT exist in the words themselves, regardless of the intent of the author.

      The hard thing to remember about communication is that the assumption that it actually occurs, is usually incorrect.

      • Maiki

        If I sya: “the writer of this blog post is a fat whore.” — this is not an issue of “tone”. The person is writing an insult, unless for some reason we are talking about the weight of people who work at whorehouses. If someone says “You are pissing me off” it is not an issue of tone — someone just said they are angry or getting angry. If someone says: ” I’m going to your house to rape you” that is not an issue of emotionalism or tone — the writer is either a liar or threatening.

        Yes– many discussions involve misinterpreting tone — and I agree that we could all do with less attribution of intent where there is none. But lots of times, the plain meaning of the words say something that cannot be interpreted as anything but insults, threats or lies, and some people can write out their feelings quite clearly.

        In conclusion — yes, text *can* be free of implication, but there are sufficient words in the English language to convey insults and emotions without having to rely on subtext or tone.

  • http://jacobhunt.tumblr.com/ Jacob

    This was an amazing post : ) I teared up a little at the end… actually.

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