Saturday, November 21, 2009

Collegiality and Professionalism

[We will be returning to our story in progress Very Soon Now, but I needed to get this rant out. Rest assured that nothing below applies to you lovely people reading this.]

Children tend to have little sense of boundaries and appropriate behavior, which is one reason they are taught to raise their hands when desiring to speak in a group setting. Parents and teachers work had to instill such boundaries, and eventually most children learn how to take turns speaking. They learn to avoid personal attacks. (Keith Olbermann is an exception.) As adults, these skills are very useful in a variety of social and professional environments.

Not everyone is adept at these skills. This week, I had the misfortune of attending one of the least-pleasant meetings of my professional life. Perhaps three dozen professionals were assembled for the purpose of a free-form meeting to make suggestions as to how to modify an important document - the particulars are unimportant. Things turned ugly very quickly, as one faction decided that the appropriate strategy was to (1) shout over anyone with an opposing point of view, (2) ridicule those with an opposing point of view, and (3) insist without evidence that their position was the only possible correct one. At one point, when one person was trying to get out a complete sentence, a second person shouted words to the effect of "Assume I'm right about [something]. What's your response?" Before the first speaker could reply, the second said again, "What's your response? What's your response, huh?" Let us just say that there was no meeting of the minds that day.

The Aethernet has always been a tough-and-tumble sort of place, a frontier characterized by the appearance of anonymity, in which some feel comfortable enough to lob ad hominem attacks and odd, thoughtless remarks. (Twitter's 140-character limit does not help in this regard.) One person tweeted - and had retweeted - the sentence: "Anyone who does business with [name of large bank] is an idiot." (Apparently, the bank had engaged in some particularly egregious screw-up.) As it happened, I was a customer of this bank. The writer had just called me an idiot. Oh, not directly, of course, not intentionally, and with no malice, but still, that wasn't nice. I regularly read tweets along the lines of "Anyone agreeing with [some position, policy, or political school of thought] is too stupid to live." While I appreciate forthrightness and am happy that we do not live in a world where thoughts must be quarantined, one would think that there are more graceful ways of expressing one's opinion. (I have no doubt that I'm guilty of this kind of behavior on occasion, so I cast no stones. All I can say in my defense is that I try not to let it happen often.)

Group chat in Second Life, bless its dysfunctional heart, is another area where the fingers may type something that the brain later regrets. I turned off a particularly belligerent discussion in ISC chat the other night that started on the subject of LL's new policy regarding free and low-priced items on SL Exchange, morphed into a discussion having to do with comparing corporate tax rates across countries, and degenerated into a debate about high personal tax rates and nationalized health care. I clicked it off more because I didn't care to have my screen taken up with those subjects, rather than the less-than-polite language of some participants, but the language was, in fact, less than polite.

None of this is new, of course. And emotions occasionally run high. The number of such episodes in one week focused my attention on the subject. I resolved to do two things: first, take such comments less personally. Second, recognize that others have a right to their opinions and that those opinions may occasionally be right. Occasionally.


Mako Magellan said...

It seems that I tuned out of that ISC chat at just the right time - before comparisons of tax rates and sundry nastiness. I laughed long at the description of your meeting; more funny in the telling than the living, I imagine.

You also reminded me of an amusing but inadvertent use of a logic statement I once saw in a restaurant in Philadelphia. Two diners near my table had finished their meal. The gentleman called for the check and, to show how on the ball he was (female companion, evidently in need of being so impressed) he checked it and wasn't happy. He declared to the waiter, "Either I'm an idiot, or this check doesn't add up." The waiter then calmly proceeded to show him that the check did add up. Therefore... :)

Rhianon Jameson said...

I enjoyed the Philadelphia story, Mr. Magellan. (Appropos of nothing, the typist spent three mostly enjoyable years in the city "at University," as they say in countries where the definite article is frowned upon. She did not partake of too many fine dining experiences, however.)

I don't mind discussions, even heated ones, though I would prefer that ISC chat reserve the heat for issues related to Victorian times. But this was just inane. (Even if anyone cared about the answer, even a Philadelphia diner should know that one should not make general statements about the optimality of tax rate x in country y without a great deal more context.) But hey, that's what the little "x" button in the corner is for. :)