Wednesday, April 04, 2007



I have acquired, in some circles, a reputation for online civility. While I join those who know me in real life in some chuckling over this, I can also say that the reputation is deserved.

There are several key elements to online civility in its practice, but it all starts with the internal processes, the attitudes and perspective of the person. In my never humble opinion (all puns intended), the ego is the prime culprit in lack or loss of civility.

At the top of my list of personal practices, kept in mind especially when an egregiously uncivil forum is encountered, is the notion of acknowledgement of feelings.

This notion is simple: before replying to a post or statement, before exploring my personal feelings and reactions, I take a moment to acknowledge the feelings of the author whose words I just read. This is simple, non-judgmental, and in no way assumes or implies that I agree with the statement or the feelings. They exist, they have been expressed, and a fundamental component of respect for others is recognizing common ground, that being in just about every case being human.

In most instances, I don't have to state the acknowledgement, at least not beyond a bare "Okay" or "I hear you". Usually, my response is composed to show the acknowledgement, even in the subtlest ways. However, sometimes it is profitable to both parties (and to those reading) to explicitly write that acknowledgement, in direct proportion to the strength of the feelings: the stronger they are, the more attention they deserve.

My personal proof of this notion is also simple: whenever I forget to use it, I find myself quickly becoming embroiled in argument rather than discussion, I expend much greater effort to be understood, let alone heard, and my own feelings become more likely to get in the way. In short, I fall in the ego trap that is present in every uncivil forum. Indeed, I can point to many a thread where an immediate improvement occured because someone acknowledged my feelings.

So, do please try this at home. Injuries incurred by the confluence of head with desk, monitor or other unyielding surface is the responsibility of the user. Management will disavow any claims of philosophical validation. This message will self-destruct in 1,000 years or at the advent of the next ice age, whichever comes first.

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