Monday, March 2, 2009

The Danger of Safe Contention

One thing that internet communication has done is to make vitriolic, hyperbolic language less dangerous to the user than it used to be.

When you risk angering someone who is standing in front of you and might take physical action against you (or call their friends to do so), there is a degree of external constraint that is absent when such a physical threat is not visible and imminent. Trolling, especially, is less dangerous than it used to be when the words needed to be spoken, since there is no chance of the group mob mentality taking over and ending up in a life-threatening assault - especially with the availability of anonymity and pseudonyms.

Since it is much safer to “stir up the hearts of men to anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:30) from the safety of a computer, exacerbated by anonymity, I believe we are more prone to “safe contention” now than perhaps ever before. Not being able to see the tears and anguish and rage and consternation caused by our words makes it more tempting to focus less on being sensitive in our communications.

I see a polarization and insensitivity in so much of the current public communication that simply wasn’t there to that degree even less than 20 years ago. I know I have crossed that line more than I would have if someone was standing in front of me as I expressed myself. I believe we, as disciples of Jesus, are obligated to pay more attention to that tendency and concentrate more explicitly on avoiding it.


Brian Duffin said...

Great post and reminder to be Christ like when commenting on a blog.

Kent (MC) said...

This type of contention is actually why I dislike forums so much, they destroy community. I remember looking at one poster on a political forum (pretty small community) and realizing that I had been hoping for one member to look stupid, and I made snide remarks whenever I could. As I came to realize I was doing this, I had to send this member an email of apology, and this is what I wrote:

"I was reflecting about (name of online community) today and I realized that I have been mistreating you. I have taken little jabs here and there at posts you have made and done so with a "better-than" attitude. You have been gracious enough to ignore most of those posts and I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I have made these comments in public and would be happy to apologize on (the forum) if you so desire. While I have sometimes had teasing things to say to others, I never did it with "war" in my heart like I did with you, I’ve singled you out for teasing and snide remarks; and that attitude and behavior is unacceptable and I deeply regret it. Heck, I don’t even know you and yet I have stereotyped you and turned you into an object in my justification for my feelings towards you. Anyway, any disagreements we may have doesn’t change the fact that you are inherently a human being with your own difficulties and trials that I have pretended not to consider. I’m sorry."

I hope others can learn from my bad example.

Anonymous said...

I just love bad examples.In so many ways.On the one hand ,I get to justify my sin.On the other,I really get to engage with someone else with integrity.

I think it's great to treat each other with the respect due to another child of God.But I just love it when someone speaks their truth to me.That's my problem,I love the sacred and the profane.One of the problems I have with church is the inauthenticity,and that's why I have loved these blogs,because they are an authentic struggle.But I take your point,and I'm working on it.

Syphax said...

Sound just like "road rage" to me. We get in our cars and spew anger and vitriol at the cars around us, because to us, that's all they are. Cars. Would we say that to someone who steps in our way in an outdoor market or at Wal-Mart? Of course not. It's the distance that causes a human being to become an object. It's like the movie The Third Man. "If one of those dots down there stopped moving, what would you care?"

Scott said...

A closely related problem is that "safe" distances make it very difficult to just walk away. I can't tell you how many times I've just "let it go" in blog threads, only to wonder to myself whether the person on the other end--who got in the last word--is thinking all smug-like that they proved me wrong. And I want to go back and prove that they didn't.

But I try not to.

In face-to-face conversation, it's very easy to judge by the demeanor of the person you're "debating" with whether or not things are moving forward. Online, this isn't the case--so much is lost when all you see is text. The result is debates that go on a few comments too long, and some very hollow "victories" when we realize that we should have just let it be.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Brian.

Kent, that is a great example. Thanks for sharing it.

"I just love it when someone speaks their truth to me." - Amen, Anonymous - as long as it is done in a respectful manner.

"It's the distance that causes a human being to become an object." - I wish I would have written that in the original post, Syphax. That truly is profound.

Scott, letting go is something with which I still struggle sometimes. There have been multiple times I have said I was leaving where I've felt physically pulled back, and I'm beginning only recently to take more active and conscious control over those situations.

Scott said...

It's hard to let it go. Even now, I can think of multiple threads where I want so badly to go back and make clear that the other guy is clueless and contradicts himself and is wrong on this and that, and that my silence is not a sign of my surrendering the point.

But I don't, and I can't.

Scott said...


Excellent use of the above comment over on MM just now. It was especially timely given that, what was a thread for multiple users, had become a back-and-forth between two parties.