Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shame on You

It's not what you call me, but what I answer to.
~ African proverb ~

So there's this blog I read, which has now split into two blogs I read. (Don't ask.) Recently the blogger posted a book review in which he used the word "insane" to describe a character's behavior, and a commenter, L, responded very politely saying she wished he hadn't used that word. The blogger subsequently edited out the word and replaced it with something else.

I asked, "What would be a good word to use instead?" Another commenter apparently took this to mean that I felt there was no good substitute, rather than meaning, "No doubt there is a good word to use instead, can you suggest one?" and said something to the effect that I ought to know better than to ask. So I said that if he remembered me well enough to know I'm a long-time poster he ought to know that I also annoy the heck out of people.

God has a bitchin' sense of humor. Somewhere in Heaven he immediately announced, "You got it, sweetheart."

A poster whom we will call Furious objected to L's post, because she felt that it was obvious the use of the word "insane" in that context had nothing to do with the modern of concept of mental illness and objecting to its use suggested it did. A brawl ensued. I try to steer clear of brawls (no, honest) so I wandered over to the other blog to see what was going on.

What was going on was commentary on the brawl, with sympathy going to D and a few others who were arguing with Furious and supporters. Furious was being referred to as a "concern troll". At some point the Magic Words, "Intent is not magic" were invoked.

I think of trolls as people who try to disrupt discussions just to disrupt discussions. It bothers me when people who advance unpopular viewpoints are reflexively dismissed as trolls. I see it as a form of poisoning the well. Whereas other people saw Furious as a troll, I saw someone who was hurting, someone for whom L's post came as a punch in the stomach just the way for L the blogger's use of "insane" came as a punch in the stomach for her.  I thought long and hard about the possible repercussions of defending Furious (see above comment about "annoying people"), and decided I would feel like a coward if I didn't at least try. I thought long and hard about the post I wrote and rewrote it several times. I expected a lot of disagreement over my saying that I did not think Furious was a troll and that she ought to at least be listened to.

What I did not expect was to be accused of attacking Furious. I was told that I was suggesting that Furious' views should not be taken seriously because she spoke of being mentally ill. When I responded by pointing out that I was in fact saying that Furious should be listened to, even if people didn't agree with her, I was told, "Shame on you". In addition, several people who were growing tired of the argument on the first blog expressed unhappiness at it having erupted on the second. So I faced a decision.

I could keep arguing to try to save my reputation but I would probably fail, and keeping the argument alive was distressing at least one person and probably more who already felt stressed to the limit. What would be the point? It was an Internet squabble, not a diplomatic mission that could potentially bring peace to Libya.  I know what I really think. I know what I really wrote. I'm not ashamed of either one. Besides, it hit me finally in a burst of merriment what had happened: my intent was to convince people to look at Furious as a person who was hurting and should be listened to instead of being dismissed as a troll, and in a back-handed, Rube Goldberg sort of way I had succeeded. Who says intent is not magic?

And that is why I say God has a bitchin' sense of humor. Sometimes I think the boy is smoking weed.

The topic of shame, however, remained salient for me because there is something I've done lately that I'm ashamed of. It happened last Friday when my BFF and I went to St. Francisville for the Audubon Pilgrimage. After buying our tickets, we had about a half hour to kill before the first attraction opened, so we decided to look for a coffee shop. We found a little cafe that was open for breakfast. They didn't have decaffeinated coffee already brewed, so the waitress brewed us a fresh pot. We each ordered a biscuit with the cafe's homemade jam. The total came to $4.42. 

Since I was doing the driving for the day, BFF offered to pick up the tab. She put a $5 bill on the table and I added a dollar for the tip. BFF was about to add another dollar for the tip. At that point, my brain started functioning in percentages instead of absolute dollars and cents and I convinced my friend that the extra dollar would be too much. After all, the $1.58 we were already leaving her was a 35% tip, pretty generous for a small country diner, right?

About a mile or two down the road the residual caffeine in my coffee kicked in and I thought about what I had done, horrified. That woman had worked as hard to get us our coffee and biscuits as she would have worked if we had ordered the full breakfast. She even offered to put the rest of the decaf in to-go cups for us. And I had responded by talking my friend out of leaving her an extra dollar. It wasn't even my dollar.

"WTF are you thinking," my better self chided, a little too late. "Are you ludicrous, absurd, mind-boggling, incomprehensible and/or asinine? Have you been smoking crack?"

I feel terrible. I feel ashamed. I'd better never do that again.

Garden at Afton Villa

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