Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

anti flame capsule

Author:David McCusker
Posted:9/20/2000; 12:55:06 PM
Topic:anti flame capsule
Msg #:21547
Prev/Next:21546 / 21548

I said I intended to write a page about ways to avoid flames in public forums, but I didn't write it. So here's a capsule version which is flawed by brevity. (Without discussing exceptions thoroughly, it might ring false.)

A few years ago, I asked myself what I could do to actively prevent others from taking offense from my writing. I studied my past failures for clues, and came up with a theory that tends to work for me. But it's slightly hard to apply this theory, because it needs exceptions requiring judgment.

I decided most problems stemmed from discussing the other person posting in the forum. In fact, mentioning the other person in any way at all is problematic, including the implicit 'you' in imperative sentences. Everything you say about a person spins their reputation and/or position.

Usually the other person doesn't like this. Sometimes they don't like it a lot. If there's a way to read a negative connotation about themselves, a reader very often will. If one does not even refer to another person, this makes it harder for them to do it. But no references is hard.

If there's any possible way to see a reference in text, a person will typically see it or infer it. In particular, folks might substitute themselves for any other referenced person or group, assuming you have merely changed the names. See, this is pretty hard. And exceptions are still needed.

For example, in a conversation one is responding to another person's remarks, right? So you must implicitly reference them by how you quote, paraphrase, or edit their remarks. You can even err by quoting some and not all of another person's words, if the missing context was important.

The only safe way to respond is by quoting exactly those parts you want to discuss, without paraphrasing, and without spinning what the other person meant by them. And when you respond, you must try hard to minimize direct and indirect references to the other person.

If possible, say what's on your mind that's related to the material being quoted, without addressing either the original text or it's author. This style suggests roughly "that makes me think of something I want to talk about." This way, one talks about oneself and not the other guy.

(In fact, you are your own best punching bag. Use yourself whenever a standin dummy is really necessary. Don't pick on some poor innocent bystander, especially if humor is involved which they might not get. Unfortunately this can make folks suppose you are more self centric than is the case. But every strategy has a flaw somewhere.)

There are many reasons why it might be impossible or just undesirable to avoid refering to other folks. If the topic of discussion is the other folks, then there's not much choice. Also, suppressing any refs to other folks can force highly unnatural sentence constructions one should avoid.

In a bad case, the topic of discussion is the company which employs the person to whom you are speaking. Then it will be very hard to avoid any references to the other person, at least by proxy through the company as a group. The other person must make a suitable allowance for this.

In the worst case, the topic concerns criticism of the company employing the other person, in which case it can be very hard to avoid seeming to flame the other guy. However, there's a general approach for negating refs.

When you reference another person and wish you could avoid it but can't, simply disclaim the reference. This is particularly important when the other person might infer something you have no intention of implying. This is only a last resort, since the other guy might not believe the disclaimer. So caveat emptor.

That's enough for now. I'll see if I forgot to mention anytthing important later. Just remember the goal is to refer to other folks much less than you otherwise would if you were not paying attention. Really work at it. But you need not slavishly eradicate everything.

Also, feel free to refer to other folks when you have something human and nice to say. And don't forget to practice random acts of kindness.

There are responses to this message:

This page was archived on 6/13/2001; 4:56:47 PM.

© Copyright 1998-2001 UserLand Software, Inc.