Re: politeness in posting

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Tue May 15 2001 - 20:15:30 MDT

Mark wrote:

>Lee wrote us two really great responses. Gee, it looks like we are
>establishing standards of politeness unheard of in the history of Usenet :)

Thanks, Mark. I wish that my responses were instrumental in
advancing that cause. But I'm quite far behind many I know,
of whom, it's inconceivable that they would ever have been
found engaging in the excesses that so mar our exchanges, e.g.,
flame wars. Somehow, one wants to be able to model the mindset
of an individual who will read everything that one writes in the
worst possible light. That doesn't sound generous; but I'm
afraid that it's true---at least true of vastly more of us than
one would have thought.

When I wrote condescendingly, "The flaw in your argument is ...",
I was translating from what would have happened had we been discussing
the problem over, say, dinner. Listening to your explanation, I
might have suddenly said, "Ah, but what's wrong with that is...",
and given my tone of voice and general demeanor, it's certain that
you wouldn't have been bothered for an instant. But (as has been
pointed out so many times) all those signals are absent in email,
and I guess that one must merely try harder to rephrase so as to
make one's actual attitude clear. Maybe there can be a list of
phrases to avoid:

1. "The flaw in your argument..."

2. "Perhaps you've noticed..." (when it's something the
    person probably already knows)

3. "That's a common misperception..." (about what someone
    just wrote)

4. "*We* believe that ..." (when the speaker could possibly
    be read as belonging to an elite)

5. "I used to think that too."

and there are probably many more that can be found examining some
email exchanges.

But the cause may be hopeless. Look again at my first sentence:
"Thanks, Mark. I wish that my responses were instrumental in..."

Why, there's even a hidden implication there that *Mark's* input
was not! So as a practical measure, one simply must learn not to
react. Somehow.


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