Friday, January 21, 2011

Civility and Filters, Part II: Again, the Soft Answer

Jeff Pearlman is a pretty awesome guy in my book.

That assessment has nothing to do with his blog or with his writing at Sports Illustrated. In fact, until tonight, I'd never heard of the guy. But he takes on the Internet haters. And pretty much makes them his friends.

Who else does that?

funny gifs

(Taken from, using the site's embed feature.)

As the mainstream media -- and a fair number of idiot bloggers such as myself -- yammer on about civility, here is one Jeff Pearlman, epitomizing the advice offered in the early part of Proverbs 15:1: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger."

Remember that post about filters? Here's someone else talking about the breakdown of filters and how it's affected him and the people who are taking advantage/disadvantage of the broken filter. Pearlman writes:
Now, with most online publications allowing readers to comment beneath stories, and with Twitter boasting an estimated 175 million users, and with a phony e-mail address a mere click away, readers can easily lash out. The filter that was a pen and paper has vanished, replaced by the immediate gratification of negativity. The concern for a writer's feelings? Ha. What feelings?

"It's about consequences, and not suffering from any," says Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founder of "There are absolutely no repercussions to writing a nasty comment or e-mail, so people feel they can vent at will. They never think that the person receiving the message might be a real human being."

That's why, when journalists take the time to respond personally to venomous notes, proving that they are made of flesh and blood, the reaction is strikingly -- and puzzlingly -- positive.

"I don't know how many times I've tracked down someone who's sent a vile or nasty e-mail, tweet or Facebook post," says Richard Sandomir, the New York Times' sports media columnist. "It often results in their being so astonished, even honored, that you'd find them, that they act normally."

Back in the day, sending someone snark was a hassle -- you had to write it out, get an envelope, and a stamp, and then send it off. You could still do so anonymously, but, as Pearlman points out, the Internet makes it so much easier these days. Nothing about the information has changed, but the filter that kept it away from you has broken.

So what do we do about it?

We do, for starters, what Pearlman does: He finds the haters and makes a human connection with them. And, for the most part, they're flattered and the snark disappears like an early June snowfall.

Another thing we can do: Avoid the snark. I've been on a personal crusade as of late to halt the negativity in the comments I post randomly about the Internet. And for the things I decide to post, I make sure I'm posting intelligently, logically, not relying on personal attacks -- not that I did much of that, but still, it always pays to read and re-read what you're posting, and then decide, for 90 or so percent of it, just to not post at all.

And when the snark comes? Go back to Proverbs 15 and give a soft answer. Acknowledge fault when it lies with you -- I do that as much as I can, because heaven knows I'm not perfect.

In other words, do as Pearlman does and make a human connection -- setting aside the technology that lowers the filters we're used to. It takes guts to call a hater on the phone. And it takes guts to continue hating when there's a real person on the other end of the line, not some faceless drone at a monolithic corporation.

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