Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Dying(?) Art of Choosing One's Battles

Before I get to the business at hand, I must say that thus far I owe the much-derided (by me, anyway) month of August a sort of apology. August—unlike its predecessor, July, which was a veritable Vulcan’s forge of heat and humidity—has been almost kind and mostly temperate. There have been deliciously cool evenings and sparkling sunny days…more you cannot hope for from any month, let alone the typically tropical August. I symbolically tip my hat to you, August.

And now for something completely different…

Raise your hands out there if you’re sick and tired of ill-mannered louts, offensive (and usually grammatically challenged) verbal assaults, and the general lack of extant civility in our daily discourse.  Has your last nerve been well and fully trod upon by people who feel it not only appropriate but their god-given right to be rude, ill informed, and needlessly destructive or divisive? Or maybe you’ve witnessed an online conversation where it quickly dissolved into name calling and personal attacks. Threatening and bullying and harassment, oh my! Sound all too familiar?

Well it resonates strongly for me. Mind you, I’m not talking about silly, gossipy comments about a celebrity hairstyle or poorly chosen red carpet gown…that’s generally good fun and a catty remark now and then is usually in order. I’m also not talking about the good-natured trash talking that often occurs between rival teams and sporting factions. There will always be a fertile rivalry between the fans of certain bands, teams, authors, television shows, politicians, it’s a given. What I’m talking about are the truly mean-spirited comments that denote a profound level of ignorance and tone-deafness. 

I’m not going to even comment about the political nonsense because there are entire websites and organizations devoted to that. What concerns and irks me most, I suppose, are these uncivilized and childish exchanges that I see—usually pertaining to horses or publishing on my personal radar—between people that I expect more from and generally respect(ed). Yeah, past tense. I’ve lost boatloads of respect for many people over things they’ve written in regard to Zenyatta versus Rachel Alexandra alone.

Look, I know it isn’t my place to lecture anyone on this (and yet, you know I'm going to), but I generally try to stay civil and on topic when I’m debating my causes and I’d like to be able to expect this of others as well. There are occasions when we all overstep the bounds of good form, I understand that, but there’s no defense, to my mind, for long-term quasi-abusive behavior. I suppose it is anger fueled, I don’t know, but how about we grow up? There are times to fall on your sword and go down admirably fighting for your cause, but if choosing one’s battles wisely is a dying art (and I think it may very well be), than fighting the good fight with passion and civility is as dead as the Norwegian Blue parrot in a Monty Python sketch. 

I can’t help but I wonder if those who are prone to nasty and cutting comments ever regret them upon further reflection. My grandmother always said that when you were angry you should write it all down in a letter and leave it sit for three days. If you still feel exactly the same way at the end of that time you should mail it. Otherwise, cooler heads will have prevailed and you’ll have saved yourself from a serving of crow. Maybe even reading their virulent nonsense out loud would be of use…if it sounds slightly awkward or off balance when you say it aloud, it’s only going to be worse when read by others. It works well with writing generally, so worth a shot with angry comments, too, perhaps.

We seem to have lost the capability as a nation to disagree without being disagreeable. We’re all entitled to our opinions and biases, but how we defend or promote them says a good deal about us as well as the cause/person/horse/book we’re backing. The fact is, for me at least, a well-argued and sensible approach to whatever subject you’re tackling is likely to win over more folks than an angry tirade. Don’t misunderstand, there is a time and place for a good old-fashioned angry smackdown, but these days it is often sadly misplaced. By all means defend or comment with a well-informed sense of passion, but enough already of ridiculous personal attacks.

That said, a few further salient (I think) points:

1. If you have to denigrate my horse/book/author/team to make yours look better, you’ve lost me immediately.

2. Being informed AND passionate is much more attractive (and winning) than being a loutish hate monger.

3. Take a moment to consider what you’re saying and what the possible ramifications are. Our words have consequences, choosing them wisely isn’t always easy but it is SO worth it in the long run.

4. Instigators do so at their own peril. Some folks love to stir the pot, that’s their MO, and to each his or her own. But when it comes down to it, I think a lot of credibility is lost by the exclamations of the pot-stirring, “sky is falling” set.

5. I’m serious about the “choose your battle wisely” line. Not everything is worth falling on your sword or damaging your reputation for. I learned a while ago, and in the absolute hardest way, that you have to pick and choose what to go to the mattresses over. (Sorry for the Godfather ref, I’ve never seen the movie but I think it’s applicable here…)

6. On a strictly equine note: It is possible to love BOTH Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. I do, and I know a few others do as well. Why we can’t celebrate these two spectacular horses is beyond me. They behave with far more class and grace than many of those who so staunchly “defend” their respective camps. I think we could take a page from the horse’s book on this one…run your heart out, be gallant, always give 110% and afterward do your most stylish victory dance.

Right, that’s me stepping down off my soapbox and taking a deep, cleansing breath. (Sincere apologies to the Python boys for such gratuitous references, but sometimes only the absurdity of Monty Python fills the bill.)


fjk said...

YES!! Social media has become a chore for this very reason. Now that people no longer have to deal with each another face-to-face, our anonymity and/or lack of physical interaction has made many of us forget how to be decent and respectful to others.

Or perhaps we just don't care about being decent and respectful.

If only the people who really need to read and digest this, would. Well said!

The Paper Tyger said...

Exactly! A chore. Clearly the anonymity has something to do with emboldening these sorts, but I'd suspect many would be nearly as rude in face-to-face interactions because they feel it is their right. The "I just call it as I see it" line as a means of defending rudeness utter lack of respect for another.

sid fernando said...

On mark and on guard,or should I say en garde!

Anonymous said...

One of my duties at work is to moderate comments on blogs. It is enough to make one lose faith with the entire human race.

As Thumper's mother said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

RidingnWriting said...

Well said!

I think the anonymity of the internet makes people feel to secure about themselves.I think you would find most of those people are really insecure people who simply get off on making others miserable. My favorite snide remarks are the ones where the person couldn't even be bothered to use spell check.

Horse people have always been catty and ill tempered, and I say that having grown up an ag person who has always ridden. Some of them are very nice,but there is are also a whole bunch who seem to get off on making life as complicated as possible. Now swine farmers, they might be one of the nicest batch of folks I've ever dealt with.

Anonymous said...

I am applauding from my chair, and the cats are looking at me funny.

It's ironic, isn't it, how debate about issues like RA and Z is simultaneously good and bad for racing (depending on when and who you ask)? At least outside interests notice that there are two horses worth talking about after Derby season, but many who care enough already to talk about them are getting sick of hearing about it for the reasons you gave. Well observed. Let's hope all bloggers/columnists/random strangers at Keeneland who heard me mention my horse of choice and then yelled at me for 15 minutes read this.

jennifer said...

Thank you. So very sick of this issue. And it's everywhere. I just put a picture up of Rachel Alexandra on my Facebook page and got a "she's lovely...but she's no Zenyatta." SERIOUSLY?!

No, she's not Zenyatta. She's a totally different horse with different connections and a different running style and personality. That's why we're having this silly debate in the first place.

I just think we're lucky to see two amazing horses, for all their strengths and weaknesses. And I'll leave it at that. :)

The Paper Tyger said...

Thanks for the comments, all! A healthy debate is a very good thing, but not when it exceeds the boundaries of decent and respectful behavior. We owe it to ourselves (and our causes) to behave better than the politicians of the world.