What is it about being in front of a computer that can sometimes bring out the worst in people?
Hiding behind email
In the office, email is the weapon of choice. How often have you received a nasty email from a co-worker who says things they would never say to your face? I had a boss that used email to say what he really thought, yet he had a hard time communicating it in person. After reading it, you would scratch your head and ask, “What was that all about?”
Back in the day before all the electronic communication, if you had a problem with someone, you would spar with them in some form to settle the dispute. Today, we hide behind email.
I like my wife’s rule to my kids. If you can’t say it to their face, then don’t say it at all. She can’t stand the “hide by email” effect. She is a direct person and tells it like she thinks it is.
Message Board Rage
Another phenomenon I have been observing is what I call “Message Board Rage”. I participate in several boards and blog discussions. There is another guy in some part of the country or world. He has never met the other person, yet he is spewing a vitriolic hatred for the other person. In many cases, it is because the other person just does not agree with what they are saying.
Growing up as a 1st generation Hungarian boy, respect is a very important concept in my family. I grew up in the era of respect your elders. Now that I have reached my mid-40s, I understand what experience really means. There is an absence of this long held value in message board culture. Not only can you show disrespect, you can down right destroy someone you do not really know.
Which begs the question, what drives this behavior? Are these individuals so unhappy in their real lives that they feel power to take it out on people half a world away? As my wife says, would these people do it in person? Chances are not.
Recently, we observed some Twitter rage. An individual did not like something another person said, so he attempted to totally destroy the credibility of the other person. It was not an intellectual banter of professionals. It was a vitriolic dialog akin to something seen on the Jerry Springer show. Is there no professional respect in the world?
The individual tried to engage me. I pointed out, this will become a circular argument. Why even have it?
The individual that was getting the rap is guy anyone would like to have a beer with. He is funny, witty, and just a decent human being. Yet, this guy from another part of the country had no qualms about trying to destroy this person’s reputation online.
Everyone today is right and the other person is wrong. Convictions are so important that basic human communications have degraded into a disrespectful shouting matches. The current economic situation does not help matters, as people are full of fear. The anger out there certainly does mask that fear.
So, what should be done to change the bad behavior in electronic communication? Simply, start with your own behavior. Ask yourself, why am I allowing this person I don’t really know, pissing me off? Is what I am writing, what I would say to him/her in person? If not, don’t write it. It’s a start.\
Online Golden Rule
“If you can’t say it to a person’s face, then don’t write it in an email, message board, blog or twitter post.”
Let’s bring the concept of mutual respect back into our dialogs. We can solve more problems this way. Maybe even help one another in the process.
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