For some months, I have been appalled by the name calling, swearing, belligerent, and deliberately inflammatory comments that often arise in online discussions. The bitterness, rancor, devaluation, and harsh judgements appear in multiple locations, and in different networks.
Randy Cohen in his book BE GOOD observed that a "savage response" solidifies disagreement, makes enduring enemies, changes nobody’s thinking, garners no dinner invitations."
Cohen continues: "And so eventually I forsook the pleasure of the punch-up for another strategy: a soft answer turneth away wrath.”
He says: “I began ignoring the tone of even the angriest e-mails and responding courteously to the sense of it. Just as an experiment. Often, even the author of a barbarous e-mail would then reply politely. Sometimes he’d apologize for his initial intemperance. My first, unworthy, thought, I’d hit upon a cunning way to make my tormentor feel guilty while I seized the moral high ground. Brilliant!”
“My second thought was to recall that Lincoln had invoked something similar in March of 1861, in his First Inaugural Address, in regard to a vastly graver conflict, urging “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,” and appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” Even for something as modest as an e-mail [or online] argument, that’s excellent advice.
Endorsement is not necessary, but if you agree with this post about online discussion etiquette consider sharing it on your social network, adding your own ideas in the comments, or adopting it as your policy.
UPDATE: Brigitte Martin recently wrote a post on Crafthaus about a parallel topic titled: Feeling Superior Does Not Help With Anything.
Martin says: "I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of the unmerciful, self-anointed experts on either end of the spectrum who think nothing of dragging someone else down publicly and having their buddies cheer them on to boot. This is called bullying in my book and it really has to stop!"
Read her entire post by clicking on the title above.
A previous post was a review of the book: BE GOOD- Ethical decisions & advice