If you’re a commenter on Slugger, then please read this short note on civility, pain and learning…

I inadvertently got caught up in the staid drama of the US House of Representatives failing three times to elect a speaker. A small band of hold outs when to (in my limited view) the ludicrous extreme of voting for someone who didn’t want the job.

It is emblematic of a modern era in which signalling discontent is more politically profitable pastime than fastening down the more challenging job of getting stuff done. This was a protest against the ‘secret Congress’ where bipartisan deals come from.

As many of you know having been on Twitter for 15 years I left last June. I occasionally keep an eye on things, but by and large that phase of my life is over. I found it of great value in the early days when it offered a breaking news service second to none.

My main discontent is with journalistic institutions sensationalising their headlines in order to keep up eyeball numbers on their stories, rather than selling their sound judgement and analysis. Emotions sell on Twitter; thoughts, not so much.

Indeed according to Science Magazine found that the time taken for falsehoods to reach 1,500 people was six times shorter than the truth. We shouldn’t need Elon Musk’s short fused tolerance to public criticism to tell us this is a bit of a problem.

Triggering is the best way to sell content, it seems. In a study for the Journal of Marketing Research in April 2012 found that the top emoticons for the most emailed stories on The New York Times where Anxiety (20%), Awe (30%) and Anger (34%).

So why am I telling you all this (again)?

Well, something similar seems to be at work in the Slugger comment zone. Post Musk there are calls for a return to the old blogosphere, but in my view, whilst most writers now blog in their own name, anonymity remains in the comments section.

Authentication for commenters is tricky, especially if, as Slugger has always had, you have a determination to keep the conversation open to all political opinions. We have been greatly helped in this regard by a dedicated moderation team.

But the whole point is that the mods are only supposed to be there to pick up on the outliers who flagrantly ignore our commenting rules. The number one responsibility is on each individual to behave in ways that allow others to say their piece.

The rules are drafted in such a way that we make it clear that there is no unacceptable belief, only acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. But subjectively I accept the it can be difficult to tease these out as they become habits of thought and feeling.

It is perfectly natural to puzzle and fret over the behaviour of others and try to understand their intentions, values and attitudes. But the play the ball not the man rule is there to cut off that “shortcut” (because it’s not a shortcut at all).

One, because no one really understands other people (so the effort expended in reading minds will always fail) and two the value of respectful engagement between people who have different knowledge sets lies in the learning that takes place.

As my friend David Amerland says in his book on Intentional:

Our past is always in our present. The future we expect won’t arrive until we identify and remove the obstacles that hold us back, and the promise of ‘shortcuts’ can often blind us to the fact they are not actually shortcuts at all.

I set Slugger up 20 years ago in order to inform myself (and then, because it was a public notebook, others) about what was actually going on in terms of Northern Ireland, a place I had physically left nearly twenty years before).

That remains my intention, and by and large it has worked well amongst those who are willing to listen and to reciprocate in the comments area. People don’t necessarily change their minds because of this engagement, but they can learn from civility.

To escape the destiny of our past we have to strive in our present. That doesn’t mean working hard until everyone sees the world the way we do, but rather using these rules of civility to broaden the vision of the future we wish to offer others.

When it comes to Slugger (and Northern Ireland) it is no one’s responsibility to police any of us into ‘acceptable’ positions, but rather the point is to maintain a space in which everyone can take on a learning opportunity, preferably with both hands.

If you are in any doubt, please read the rules, and crack on. Just remember your only entitlement is the pain you experience in encountering people whose world view you cannot understand or you think is wrong about everything you believe is important.

Offer it up (as my late mum used to say), move on or engage and prepare to learn hugely from what can be a troubling experience. Otherwise, and I only suggest it gently, Slugger is probably not the place for you.


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