5 Good Things to Start in 2015

At the beginning of December I wrote about 5 things that I’d learned and had (re)confirmed. There’s been a lot going on since then and it’s been astounding me how willing people are to make the same mistakes, especially in on-line communication, and just go out and do things that are hurtful, ignorant and, well, just plain stupid. I’m always writing this with the idea of being helpful to my students so here is a list of 5 things (not necessarily the only 5 things or the top 5 things) that would be good habits to commit to in 2015 when it comes to electronic communication. Think of it as the 5 things I’ve learned, specifically addressing the on-line world. Some of these have come up in the blog before but I think this is the only time they’ve all been in the same place. Eh, let me know. (Note: we’ve all done things like this at some point probably so this is a reminder from a fellow sufferer rather than a lecture from a saint. My feet of clay go up to my navel.)

  1. Just Because You Can See Something Doesn’t Mean You Have to Comment.

    There’s a famous XKCD comic about this (see above) and it is both a time sink and a road to unhappiness to think that everything that you can see needs to be dealt with by your intervention. Now there are times when it almost always makes sense to assist, much as in real life: when someone is being threatened, when someone is being bullied, when someone else is actively harassing someone. But when you notice that someone you vaguely know is happy about using a selfie stick and posts some silly pictures? No, that’s not the time to post an insulting video about selfie sticks and then link him in so he knows he’s being insulted. Really? That makes sense? Don’t be that person. We all have strong opinions about some recreational stuff but, most of the time, no-one’s getting hurt so why make someone else feel miserable?

    It’s sometimes hard for people to know when to leap in and when not to but there are some clear indicators. Are you doing it to make someone else feel bad about something that they like? Yeah, why are you doing that? Go and find something better to do. Are you doing it to show how smart you are? It’s probably working in the opposite way. Are you bullying people to complain about people bullying people? Do you need to read that sentence again?

    Doesn’t mean that you can’t comment but it means you need to choose when to comment and the best way to comment. If you really feel that something you run across needs input, don’t do it in a way that is thoughtless, mean, bullying, unnecessary or insulting. If someone says “Yeah, I don’t need your input” – then stop. If you really screwed up the communication – apologise. Simple. Learn. Try to do better in future.

  2. Vent BEFORE Typing

    Oh, yeah. If only I could take back some of the things I typed when I was angry. These days, I try to be grumpy off-line so I’m constructive on-line. Way more effective and I have to apologise less. If someone isn’t getting the point, then don’t get ruder or START USING ALL CAPS. Back off. Use your energies elsewhere. The science is pretty clear that straight-up chest bumping arguments only solid opposing opinion. Discuss, back off, discuss again. Be cool.

    (Ok, so sometimes I have a small vent at the air for a while and then grab a calming tea before I come back. This brings me to the next point…)

  3. The Internet Can Wait

    The Internet is not a communications system that has hard real-time constraints. Guess what – if you don’t respond immediately then you can go back later and see if anyone else has said what you wanted to say or if the person commenting has read through some stuff and changed their mind. 3,000 people saying “HERP DERP” is not actually helpful and a pile-on is just mass bullying.

    Especially when you are agitated, step away. Don’t step away into Day Z and get sniped by human hunters, though. Step all the way away and go and relax somewhere. 3D print a flower and look at that. (You may have actual flowers you can observe.) Watch an episode of something unchallenging. Think about what you want to say and then compose your response. Say it with the style that comes from having time to edit.


    That’s really less than convincing. Take some time out.

    What are you basing that on? I thought the evidence was pretty clear on this.

    There. That’s better. And now with 100% less Hitler!

  4. Stay Actual Rather Than Hypothetical

    It’s easy to say “If I were in situation X” and make up a whole heap of stuff but that doesn’t actually make your experience authentic. If you start your sentence with qualifiers such as “If I were..”, “Surely,” or “I would have thought…” then you really need to wonder about whether you are making a useful point or just putting down what you would like to be true in order for you to win an argument that you don’t really have any genuine experience to comment on.

    It’s been so long since I’ve been unemployed that I would hesitate to write anything on the experience of unemployment but, given that my take on welfare is for it be generous and universal and I have a strong background in the actual documented evidence of what works for public welfare, my contributions to any thread discussing welfare issues can be valuable if I stick to what could be used to improve people’s lot, with an understanding of what it was like to be unemployed in Australia. However, I would almost never leap in on anything about raising children because I don’t have any kids. (Unless it was, I WANT TO BOIL MY CHILDREN, in which case it’s probably wise to check if this is a psychotic break or autocorrect.)

  5. Don’t Make People’s Real Problems a Dinner Party Game

    One of the few times I have been speechless with rage was when I was discussing gay marriage with someone on-line and they said “Well, this would be a fascinating discussion to have over dinner!” and they were serious. No, human rights are not something for other people to talk about as it it were some plaything. (I walked away from that discussion and frothed for some time!)

    And this goes triple for anyone who leaps in to play “Devil’s Advocate” on an issue that really does not require any more exploration or detailed thought. If we are discussing a legal argument, and not human rights, then sure, why not? If we’re talking about people not being allowed to use a certain door because of the colour of their skin? We’ve discussed that. There is no more exploration of the issue of racism required because anyone with a vague knowledge of history will be aware that this particular discussion has been had. XKCD has, of course, already nailed this because XKCD is awesome.

    I see this now with many of the misconceptions about poverty and the pernicious myths that want to paint poor people as being “less worthy”, when a cursory examination of the evidence available shows that we are seeing a rapidly growing wealth divide and the disturbing growth of the working poor. The willingness to discuss the reduction of rights for the poor (compulsory contraception, food credits rather than money, no ‘recreational’ spending) as if this is an amusement is morally repugnant and, apart from anything else, is part of a series of discussions that have been running for centuries. We can now clearly see, from our vast data panopticon, what the truth of these stories are and, yet, go onto any forum talking about this and find people trotting out tired anecdotes, “Devil’s advocate” positions and treating this as an intellectual game.

    People’s lives are not a game. Engage in discussions with the seriousness required to address the issue or it’s probably best to try and find somewhere else to play. There are many wonderful places to talk rubbish on the Internet – my blog, for example, is a place where I work and play, while I try to change the world a little for the better. But when I roll up my sleeves in big discussions elsewhere, I try to be helpful and to be serious. The people who are less fortunate than I am deserve my serious attention and not to be treated as some kind of self-worth enhancing amusement.

  6. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

    Gosh, I said there were 5 and now there are 6. Why? Because you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. I’ve made all of the mistakes above and I’ll probably (although I try not to) make a few of them again. But as long as you’re learning and moving forward, don’t be too hard on yourself. But keep an eye on you. You can be shifty. But don’t be strict about your own rules because rigidity can be a prison – bend where necessary to stay sane and to make the world a better place.

    But always remember that the best guidelines for bending your own rules is to work out if you’re being kinder and more generous or harsher and meaner. Are you giving an extra point 6 when you promised 5? Are you stopping at 4 because you can’t be bothered?

We all make mistakes. Some of us learn. Some of us try to help others to learn. I think we’re getting better. Have a great 2015!

One Comment on “5 Good Things to Start in 2015”

  1. The problem I run into with #2 & #3 is especially true on Facebook, the true home of “if you think it, type it immediately.” I’ll get a provoking comment, and I sit back to think about a measured response. Meanwhile, one of my friends or family leaps in and does the HI||IITLERRR1! thing and completely makes it impossible for any sort of thoughtful discourse to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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