Internet: Rudiments of Courtesy and Respect

I have been on the internet since it was DOS, a big black screen with glowing green text. The early chat rooms and newsgroups were full of pedantic people trying to prove themselves in one way or another, from the spelling nazis to the socially insecure showing their scintillating intelligence and argumentative nature. In the new newsgroups, there are often rules against correcting someone’s typos but you can still get the know-it-alls. You also get the people who have to air their grievances against another for one and all to suffer through.

We live in a modern age of computers and instant messages. Before those came along there were phones and letters. Before that era, there were letters and pigeons. Before that, and during, there were riders on horses. Communications could always fall into the wrong hands, or not get through, or your courier be killed…if it was really important and political.

Some of our view of courtesy comes from the Victorian era but even before that, through much of the middle ages there were such things as courtly behaviour. Nobles and the higher echelon, even the peasantry, showed respect. Sure, rumours existed but they were and have always been perpetuated by people talking about the subject behind the subject’s back and never addressing the issue directly. Should one noble to the other have something particularly vicious to say, probably couched in witty ways, it was usually done face to face, because the fewer witnesses the better to deny it ever happened.

To call one out, especially one of any noble lineage was tantamount to a duel or a war, or maybe an assassination. Words had power, have always had power. Words can slander, can give respect, can color one’s view. But even as much as words reflect on the subject, they also reflect on the speaker.

No matter how wronged a person is, or how justified they may be in speaking of the scurrilous things people have done to them, when even the injured get on the soapbox it most often is not pretty. Be careful who you paint with that brush for the paint can spatter on you. I have seen this over and over, and used it as a good lesson. When the wronged one starts pointing a finger back
and getting to name calling, that person too loses credence. Sometimes turning the other cheek is the best policy.

To air one’s laundry, whether yours or the pilfered goods of the “other”, it is still airing your laundry in public. It is a tactic that holds the public hostage to a viewing whether they want it or not. It is a tactic that one does to shame the other. It is a tactic that shows the one who airs as callous, mean, little and low class. It is a tactic meant to anger and to justify one’s own behavior. And it is always lowly done and not of the noblest of intentions.

Here are a few rules by which I judge if there is courtesy and respect. I try to use these. Discussing is one thing but belittling or berating others is not acceptable.

1. If you have nothing nice to say, shut up.
2. If you hate someone, tell them personally. We don’t want to know.
3. If you want to be Machiavellian and stir the pot, well then you really think
you’re so witty that no one is catching on as you sit back and lick your paws.
You’ll believe yourself superior, but it’s not very noble either.
4. If you have to show off your intelligence and superior knowledge in a
pedantic manner, then you’re not very secure and it shows.
5. If you have to whine about how much you did and that no one ever notices or
wants you, then no matter your position you’re not doing this for noble means and
maybe there’s another reason no one wants you.
6. If you make yourself a martyr and make sure everyone knows, then expect to
be used that way and not to get sainthood at the end.
7. If you’re getting so out of hand in your vitriol that someone has to smack
your hand, well then maybe it’s time to go to mommy until you grow up.
8. If you can’t be constructive, or don’t know the facts, shut up.

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