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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

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The Law of the Uphill Skier


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.



Blogger Jennifer said...

Yes. The high road is hardly ever crowded, but wouldn't it be nice if it was. That kind of pile-up would be something to celebrate.

6:40 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

This is just about the best thing I've ever read about the interplay between community and dignity. Wait. I think this might be the only thing I've ever read about the interplay between community and dignity. The way you've put it, anyway. Thank you.

The writers that feel, to me, like a refuge from all the bullshit - they are wholly absent from the stock and pillory. Some are even wholly absent from the entire channel that hosts the stock and pillory. They are my touchstones. You're one of them.

I'm trying to single something out but I can't. Thank you for existing out here, for stating this. I tried. Kind of. I made vague references to the apparent obligation of taking sides, and being seen as feminist or anti-feminist in the context of all this steaming hot mess. And I said I like to get my dick dirty. It was a complete and total non-statement, a sideways angle, and I did this because I'm afraid. I don't know if I'm capable of wading into it or through it without defeating myself - without having it degrade into side-taking.

This is a long-winded way of saying you did it. You made the necessary statement. And you did it kindly and thoughtfully and with such excellence. Thank you, Kyran.

8:38 PM  
Blogger jodifur said...

This is the first post of yours I have ever read. I want to read more.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Tanis said...

Everything Kate said, I echo.

Thank you for this. Words to remember, and I'm burning them into my brain.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Natalie said...

great post....happy to have found your blog, even if it was through the said pile-up....:*)

9:14 PM  
Blogger the new girl said...

So well said. Really great.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Chair said...

Hell yes. YES.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Angella said...

Between this post and our DM's over the past two days, I love you even more.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

9:23 PM  
Blogger metalia said...

YES. This is fantastic. Thank you for writing it.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

Beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

9:33 PM  
Blogger outsidevoice said...

This is my first visit to your site - I am glad I landed here.

Thank you for championing the "reasonable". It's a favorite approach that doesn't get near enough exercise these days.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Melany Gallant said...

great advice that just makes sense. here's hoping more people learn to use common sense online and to not take everything they read personally, and then make it personal.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Miguelina. said...

Yes. Exactly. There are more reasonable people online than not. I believe that. But of course you tend to hear from the ones who exploit drama.

I am glad that you've spoken up.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Not So French Girl said...

Also a first time visitor to your site. Great post. I'll be back.

I've never been involved in internet drama. Aside from checking my email to see if people have gotten back to me:) I think I'm lucky!

10:00 PM  
Blogger Amy B. said...

Here is why you are wise: You did not call for other people to quit saying stuff. You did not call for other people to change the way they think or act.

Instead, you simply stated what you would do when you came across something you didn't like.

If more of us stopped worrying about trying to change others and only thought about how we could change ourselves, much of this incivility would cease.

10:05 PM  
Blogger whoorl said...


10:16 PM  
Blogger elle dubya said...

another first time reader here - followed a link that the wino posted on twitter...

imagine that i'm standing up, clapping and cheering loudly. with pom poms.

i lost heart with blogging a few years ago in part because of the lack of civility in my own blog circles then. there ought to be "rules of engagement" you must click to agree to before ever pressing the publish button!

10:22 PM  
Blogger Avitable said...

If people would only get involved in that which they have a personal stake, I think we'd all be okay. I get caught up in the drama when I feel like a friend has been or might be harmed or threatened, but if they're two parties I don't know, why would I even care?

10:34 PM  
Blogger Avitable said...

Oh, and all of that was me saying good post. :)

10:34 PM  
Blogger Juli said...

I agree with nearly everything that you have written here so beautifully.

I do think, and maybe you will disagree with me, that if we happen to stumble on an uncivil discussion, sometimes we might have a responsibility to say something, if we are able to. Before we disengage.

Like, hey guys, it isn't OK to put this person in the blocks, as it were. It isn't OK to rush to judgment.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm gratified and kind of blown away that this is post is being shared so widely. It's not my reaction to a single incident; I've put a lot of thought into this over time, and I'm especially gratified that Amy picked up on my refraining from telling other people what they need to do. Avitable, Juli, I say do as your conscience informs you (not that you need me to say it). There's certainly a time to speak out on behalf of a friend, or a principle. And there are ways to do that which don't feed the flames.

I choose to speak out here, in my space, where I establish the tone and context, rather than plug into a forum that I feel is doing more harm than good.

I'm so glad we're can have this conversation, and I'm honored that you all have dropped by.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Also, I'm very tired and making typos now. A gal can only think straight for so long. :-)

10:47 PM  
Blogger Zoeyjane said...

Beautiful post.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

Imagine me doing the whole Wayne's World "we're not worthy!" thing. Because I am.

I'm also clapping and cheering, even though I have never once been involved in a pile-up and never seem to know one has even happened until it's over.

Case in point - I have NO IDEA what the current hoo-ha is about, because I didn't have time to read any blogs the last couple of days. Which just further illustrates that so many of these online dramas are really unimportant.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

"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?"

YES. We can choose to steer away. And we can choose to be kind and/or to be gentle and/or to be gracious and/or to be sane. We can choose to walk away from the mob. We can choose to avoid virtual neighborhoods where the mob congregates. We can choose to demand a better space, to demand better of ourselves in this space.

Yeah. I kind of want to just put a permanent link to this on my blog.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Elz said...

This-this says it all. Thank you.

9:55 AM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

I keep reading this again and each time I do, there's something new that I see that makes me almost spill this mug of tea. With enthusiasm.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I have tweaked it here and there to amplify a point. I have a hard time keeping my hands off things. Which explains why it took me 15 months to write my book.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Ali P. said...

I just wrote a whole post about the beauty of facebook blocking! Cheers to this!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

What a thoughtful post. Very worthwhile.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Teresa Tebbe said...

This is one of the many reasons I return again and again to read your blog. Thank you, Kyran!

I look forward to reading your book. I'm waiting for our Library's B&N Fundraiser next week to order it so that I'm able to benefit them at the same time!

1:49 PM  
Blogger ExtraordinaryMommy said...

This is my first time to your site. It won't be the last. So beautifully and thoughtfully written. And spot on. Thank you for putting into word what so many of us think ....

If we could all just commit to this: "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."...

3:15 PM  
Blogger motherbumper said...

This is the most awesome post I've read in a long time. Personally my time has been spent less online as I prefer to sidestep the mine fields and those mine fields seem plentiful these days.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday!

1:37 AM  
Blogger Never That Easy said...

So thoughtfully put. An excellent discussion about something I seem to be running into more and more these days. And the importance of having your own code, in virtual spaces, as well as IRL.

8:33 PM  

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