I totally don’t believe in the concept of New Year’s resolutions, but I have been kicking around something New Year’s resolutionist lately. But first a little background. Email and online discussions are an interesting venue for human beings because we are alone physically but not alone when it comes to the discussion itself. So psychologically we are influenced by both those contexts at once: we are alone yet we are speaking, often, to a larger audience. I call this “alone together”.
An in-between example is when you are in your car. You can scream and holler if you want, sing like an idiot, vent your every frustration, and only you hear it. Alone. Yet you are not alone when you are in your car. Your actions are part of a social fabric. So you can scream at the top of your lungs at that mother fucker who cut you off, but you are doing so knowing they can’t hear you. You would never say those things directly to them in person.
Something similar occurs online. This has been often noted. People say things online they would never say in person. They say things in manners that they would never use in person. We are, in a sense, different people when we are online. The other side does this, too. The recipient of our communications interpret what they read with an overlay of what they perceive and invent, basically, in terms of the tone and attitude of the message.
I have been a major participant in this. I have written emails I shouldn’t have, posted messages I shouldn’t have, used the wrong tone, provoked, condescended to and antagonized.
This is my news years resolution. I am a fairly nice person in person. I am generally very diplomatic. I abhor negativity and for the most part avoid conflict. I look for win-win situations and try to get people on the same side of the table.
So it’s a weird thing, to a) “misspeak” online and b) to have innocent things over-interpreted in terms of tone, always, it seems, to the negative. Taken together, I can be a bit of an asshole online.
When I think about this, on the one hand, I don’t mind rustling feathers. I like giving people shit. I like debating and I don’t mind if it gets rough. But I do think it is important that the general vibe of conversations be respectful. With intellectual debate, the point is not that it be a punching match. Ideas have to be the focus.
I heard on the radio that Aldous Huxley was asked on his death bed if he had anything to say to the world and he said “Be kinder.” That sounds like good advice to me and I am going to try to put it into practice.
The other quote I am going to attempt to take to heart is from Serenity.
I should tell you, so that you don’t waste your time… you can’t make me angry.