A few months ago, Patrick tripped up over somebody's status update on Facebook, and got embroiled in a brief, but intense, flame war that had me and a girlfriend simultaneously running to our phones to leave each other frantic voice mails that both said, "I'm so SORRY, he's such as ASS." Such divisions reveal where true loyalties lay, and ours are definitely with each other. Sorry, guys.
Of course, it all blew over after a week or two. Social media operates the same as the rest of society in that people are sometimes asses, feelings get hurt, words get said, you hug it out, or you don't, and life goes on. But on the internet the cycle is sped up and amplified. It's easy to lose your sense of scale, and difficult to gauge the force with which you respond. There's a tendency to reach for the big gun first, to take offense where none was offered, to assume malice and intent when stupidity or thoughtlessness is more often the case. I'm not talking about trolls, stalkers, hate speech, or harassment here. I mean people who can be insensitive, opinionated, off-color, provocative, arrogant, sanctimonious, impolite, awkward, inappropriate, patronizing or just plain cranky from time to time. Which is every single one of us, last time I checked.
In this instance, I thought Patrick overreacted. He was genuinely surprised to hear me say it. He thought he was giving back as good as had been given.
But the offending status update hadn't been directed at him, I pointed out. He had taken it personally, and then made it personal.
"You have to follow the law of the uphill skier," I told him.
"If you are skiing uphill from someone less experienced than you, the onus is not on them to get out of the way, it's on you not to crash into them," I explained. "There's a similar rule in sailboat racing, where the more competent sailor is responsible for avoiding collisions."
There are probably less WASP-y sports analogies, but it all boils down to this: take the high road, be the bigger woman or man. If you have sanity, sobriety, serenity or maturity on your side, you occupy the vantage point. The Facebook friend in question is quite a bit younger. He also happened to be going through a bit of a rough time. He was struggling to stay up on his skis at that moment, and Patrick, who knew this, should have skied around him.
I began writing this post a few weeks after that, prompted by a very ugly mob scene I'd stumbled across on someone's blog. One blogger had been offended by another, and chose to air it publicly. Then sat back and let the flames burn, protesting faintly that management took no responsibility for the overall tone of the comments. I thought I would wait for things to calm down, so that people wouldn't think I was commenting directly on that post. That controversy is ancient history now, and I'm still waiting for things to calm down. Lately it seems like there's a new pile-up every week in my little corner of the internet. It's gone beyond tiresome. It's toxic.
This is not about the merits of any one of the countless grievances being aired out on the internet on any given day. It's about the pile-up. It's about taking responsibility for the conversations we initiate and the tone we set in the spaces we've created. And it's about our social media footprint as participants -- the path we carve out with our clicks. Does it lead to the pile, or does it steer away? I'm not so naive to think that a blog post asking for restraint and responsibility is going to generate a tiny fraction of the buzz that one gets by calling for outrage, judgment and vindication. But call this my personal rally to sanity.
Here's a few rules of online conduct I'm going to do my best to live by:
I'm making changes to filter the drama from all my social media streams, which is not hard to do, since it always seems to be the same people hanging around the stocks and pillory.
I'm a fan of civil debate, satire, free speech, truth-telling, personal disclosure, passionate dissent, strong opinions and the 7 words you can't say on TV. I do not support frontier justice. People are asses sometimes, and I can't help that. But I can avoid or address their negative behavior without crashing into them head-on and inviting the rest of the internet to do the same. When negative behavior goes beyond someone being an ass, there are progressive, responsible steps I can take, surprisingly few of which require audience participation.
I will avoid pile-ups. If I stumble into one, I will do my best to disengage quickly and quietly. I won't endorse an uncivil discussion with my name or my clicks.
I will try not to rush to judgment. If I find myself taking satisfaction in someone else's misfortune or failing, I will treat it with the same urgency I'd bring to a lump on my breast or a spot on my lung. Because if you let that kind of thing go, it will kill you, if not in body, in soul.
And I will admit that sometimes I may be the person downhill, flailing and thrashing around belligerently. Please don't crash into me.
Labels: streaking the quad
this post lives all by itself here