Most of my blogs stem from personal experience. Yesterday, it was an unprovoked, out-of-context lashing-out from a follower.
It pissed me off. For a moment, at least. Then it inspired this blog.
I’m exhausted with the blind pretension and (wrongly) implied panoptic permission that stems from the perceived anonymity that accompanies social media and other forms of electronic communications these days. We have the glorious conveniences of texts, DMs (direct messages), Facebook messages and emails and somewhere along the line, there’s a herd that’s emerged who’s forgotten there are people on the other end of their words and responses.
Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean that I don’t understand you’re a person with a story.
Think about that for a moment: everyone you chit-chat with in the electronic medium is a living, breathing soul. Alongside that comes hopes, dreams, thoughts, feelings and experiences unparalleled by others.
And sometimes there are douchebags.
Yesterday I told a poop joke on Twitter. (collective gasp – no, Erika…not YOU!)
Yeah, me. A friend sent me a stupid joke via email and I read it and laughed. I mean, poop jokes never really get old. Everybody poops. I posted the joke on Twitter, generating the anticipated groans, snorts and follow-up jokes in the same vein.
Here’s the joke: Why don’t blind people sky dive? Because it scares the poop out of their dogs.
And then I got bitch-slapped from behind.
A follower wrote: “yeah hysterical.. now let’s tell jokes about African Americans and watermelons.”
You’re kidding me, right? I made a poop joke and now this person’s entitled to align me with a racist stereotype?
After much reiteration that it was a joke (JOKE – check it out) and the same user’s insistence that I take a class on people with disabilities (for realz), I blocked the user. No ifs, ands or buts. I cared not to expend any more of my bandwidth on the meaningless exchange.
Action regretted? No. My prerogative? Hell yes.
Here’s the skinny: it comes down to context.
All too often in written conversations, there’s the ability for things to be taken out of context. We don’t have the benefit of personal knowledge for many/most that comprise our network in the online space, and if a phrase is absent one of a myriad of “emoticons” to denote intended inflection and tone, we’re screwed.
What did they mean?
Sit down, shut up and ASK. Get the context. When you jump into the middle of someone else’s conversation that’s not directed at you (and didn’t even originate with you), you’re not entitled to horn-in on the offensive just because you can SEE certain words. Doing shit like that at a bar would have your ass kicked right and proper. At the office, it would have you labeled a “nosey neighbor” and ostracized from the watercooler gossip games. The anonymity that accompanies online communications doesn’t grant anyone the right to say whatever the hell it is they want.
It grants the privilege to engage in conversations, meet others and share ideas.
Yesterday, I wasn’t even granted the courtesy of an inquiry into my intention behind the joke (intention being – I laughed at a poop joke). I was lambasted with a comment aligning my puerile joke with a racial slur and caught completely off guard by someone who has previously NEVER interacted with me and I never them (and if I ever had, it’s long since been forgotten). Now, I don’t know this person’s story either – perhaps jokes about dogs pooping mid-air when jumping out of airplanes resonate and hit a nerve. Maybe they also give high marks to bank tellers and airline counter agents. However, had they made an inquiry into MY story instead of launching their racially-laden tweet bomb, here’s what they might have discovered:
I, @RedheadWriting, the Foul-Mouthed Lass, F-Bomb Aficionado, and She Sans Filter – am the last person who needs to take a class with regards to persons with disabilities and those differently-abled. While acerbic in wit, I am essentially soft at heart. I give because it hurts more to not give and I feel it’s my obligation while I walk six feet up (OK – 5’4″) to help others in whatever way I can.
- I live each day with an autistic nephew and my heart fills with admiration when I look at my sister and her family on how they cope, grow and revel in victories as they travel through his development. Having experienced the days where I couldn’t even touch him to those now when he comes up and gives me a willing hug…it’s a testament to the fact that I believe those labeled as “disabled” are merely “differently abled.”
- Last week, I dedicated a day of my Twitter existence to raising money to support autism research. (special thanks goes to @iamthechad, @m1nd7r1p, @poolboydeluxe, @bradwerntz, @canoelover and others who kindly made donations to the autism-focused charity of their choice)
- In 2008, I dedicated a year of my life to founding and operating my own 501(c)(3) organization called “Woman on Top: because there’s more to climb than the corporate ladder.” My year was dedicated to assembling a group of climbers to raise money throughout the year to support the Foundation for Positively Kids, a Nevada nonprofit organization dedicated to building the first inpatient skilled pediatric nursing facility in the state. We climbed Kilimanjaro for the cause – 4 women and one very brave, estrogen-suffocated man. We summited on September 26, 2009. It was exhausting – both running/financing the non-profit and making the journey – but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thank you @unlaced (Meghan), Amy, Cindiman and Brandon for making the journey with me.
So before you attack – ASK. Become familiar before you point the finger. There are always going to be the folk who act like asses regardless of the environment – online or otherwise. They’re also likely the ones who place more value in contention than in collaboration. Screw ’em – but try to not be one of them. The recipients of your literary javelins that you hurl into cyberspace – they’ve got stories of their own. You’re not always going to please everyone and there’s nothing wrong with requesting clarification and then taking a calculated stand – but there’s no reason to be a douchebag.
Some parting thoughts from The Redhead:
- Retaliatory and rash actions aren’t accepted in business. Ever. Why would you use them online?
- A keyboard and screen don’t make you anonymous. They merely obscure – and temporarily at that.
- Words are telling – how you choose to use them, even more so.