On Being Mean

Hello Faithful Readers, and welcome to yet another month of the Lady of the Manners shaking her lace-gloved fist and ranting (in a ladylike manner, of course). Now lets see … last month, the Lady of the Manners mentioned a topic she’d been thinking about. It’s a topic that she even covered in brief a few months ago, saying something like “The Internet is not Real Life, but you still should be nice to the people you meet there”. Well, yes. Apparently the ‘be nice’ part of the message didn’t reach some people or make as much as of an impact as the Lady of the Manners had hoped for, so she’s going to indulge herself with an ENTIRE COLUMN about why being rude, unkind, or inflammatory towards people you meet online Should Not Be Done.

Some time ago (and the Lady of the Manners isn’t sure when), the idea that online gothic culture is supposed to be … adversarial and insular became the status quo. That if a new person popped up on alt.gothic , a local mailing list, or a posting board, they should be greeted with a barrage of hostile responses, demands for the new persons ‘credentials’, and a flood of in-jokes purely for the amusement of the older posters. If the new person had the temerity to ask why they were greeted this way, they were told that they (as a new person) had to prove themselves, that this is the way things ALWAYS have been, and if they didn’t like it or objected to such treatment, they obviously shouldn’t be there.

Now, the Lady of the Manners has thought and thought and thought about this, and still can’t quite see the purpose in being hostile and antagonistic to someone who you’ve never met before. Don’t try and use the ‘it makes sure only the worthy people hang around’, because if that IS the point to it, it isn’t working and a new tactic is desperately needed. In the Lady of the Manners’ dream world, new posters (in whatever sort of venue or forum they’ve toddled into) would be greeted politely, have the various in-jokes and slang of the group explained when they’re used next, and generally be treated as innocent until proven guilty. If the new person IS guilty (of being an annoying prat, that is), then there STILL wouldn’t be a flame war. (No, snarklings, there wouldn’t. Stop hunching over your keyboard in excitement, it’s bad for your back.) There would be someone explaining to the annoying person what they’ve done to be labeled an annoying prat, and then either they would change their ways or be ignored. No rounds and rounds of shouty messages, no jumping on the argument by everyone, just a simple “This is what you did wrong” and following “Sorry, I won’t do it again”.

Of course, this doesn’t happen except in the Lady of the Manners’ pleasant little imaginary world (it has a lovely, but strict, dress code), but trust her, things would be so much more pleasant if everyone didn’t immediately rush to stomp all over new posters. Yes, the Lady of the Manners realizes that there are many of you out there who positively live to run roughshod over newbies, that you’ve done so for years and your behavior is dismissed or defended by other posters as “Oh, that’s just Count Spooky von Cranky, he’s always like that”. You realize, however, that isn’t a good enough excuse anymore. Just because you’ve always behaved that way doesn’t make it any better, and you should learn how to be nice to people you’re only just meeting, even if it’s “only online”.

Which brings the Lady of the Manners to the other part of her ruminations about online meanness: “It’s only the board/list/newsgroup”. Oh reeeeeeaaaally? So interacting with someone in an online environment automatically negates the standard social conventions and rules? Gracious, the Lady of the Manners must have missed that little announcement. The rule the Lady of the Manners remembers is that you should interact with people the same way you would if you were sitting in a room with them. Which means that if you wouldn’t start polls about who in your little community is most deserving of being humiliated, punched, or should be teamed up with someone else to wrestle in a vat of pudding when sitting around at coffee with people, you shouldn’t do so in an online forum either. Really, what is so difficult about understanding that?

However, what makes the Lady of the Manners stare in a shell-shocked fashion at her computer is the people who, when asked “would you say that to their face?” say YES. Yes, they would go up to someone they know and say (to take examples from various sniping wars the Lady of the Manners has seen over the years) “I think you deserve to be punched, just because” or “I think you’re a waste of oxygen and I wish you were dead” or “I think you’re a junky and a tramp because my friend doesn’t like you”? If that’s the case, then those people are so lacking in social skills that they possibly should be assigned minders to keep them from having ever having conversations with anyone else; if they’re that lacking in social skills, how on earth do they manage to keep any friends, let alone make it through a job interview?

Ahem. the Lady of the Manners got a little vehement there, didn’t she? But the point still valid – if you’re the sort of person that sees nothing wrong with saying (either in real life or on the internet) statements such as the ones in the above paragraph, the Lady of the Manners fears there really isn’t anything to be done for you. Perhaps someday you’ll be granted a blinding epiphany that will make you realize just how horrible, unnecessary, and unkind such behavior is; until then, don’t be surprised if people don’t rush to spend time with you.

As for the rest of you, those of you who realize such behavior is Out Of Line; start calling others on it. When you see someone being beastly, mean, or spiteful in your online community, tell them it’s not appreciated and to knock it off. Yes, this might cause them to start spewing vitriol in your direction, but just ignore them (do NOT get into an argument with them, it won’t change their mind). If enough people do this, maybe the unbearably rude and mean-spirited will Get A Clue. Or enough people will just stop talking to them and they’ll slink away. Either would be just dandy with the Lady of the Manners.

Well. That was a bit more … authoritative and parental-sounding than the Lady of the Manners perhaps intended when she started out, but it certainly got the point across. the Lady of the Manners is now going to walk away from the computer and do something soothing like taking a nap. Scamper back next month, when the Lady of the Manners might not get so agitated, but can’t promise a 100% rant-free column. As always, send any questions to headmistress@gothic-charm-school.com.

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