Blogging in the Grudge-o-sphere

In the last four years I’ve learned a great deal about a host of topics, including my Catholic Faith, while blogging, reading other people’s blogs, and participating in comment box discussions. And yet there are some notable dangers that come with blogging as well.

A few months ago, I did myself no great credit in a combox discussion on a friend’s post. Someone against whom I carried paper left a comment I disagreed with, and rather than sticking with a basic refutation I went all out: questioned motives, brought up old arguments, put words in his mouth, the works. An hour or two later I got an email from my friend. “Wow. Next time tell us what you really think…”

But I knew I was right. I hit reply and was pouring out the reason I’d been 100% justified in behaving that way at 70wpm. A year and a half ago, this other blogger and said such-and-such. And when I’d pointed out his obvious errors, he’d said that. And then there was that other time. And remember when over on that other guy’s blog he’s said this in the comments? And…

I took a moment to stare at the paragraphs I’d written and realized this would sound a lot more appropriate coming out of my six-year-old as an explanation for why she’d hit another kid than coming out of a thirty-year-old man who fancies himself intellectual.

As bloggers we sometimes live by the word in rather the same way that a duelist lived by the sword. And slights which, when explained to anyone else, would immediately sound small and petty, fester and become long term rivalries.

Given the source of my recent embarrassment, I’ve tried to make it a rule to think how I would feel writing an explanation of my behavior in any given conversation to a disinterested party. Given my pride, this is a strong incentive to charity, or at least calmness. Naytheless, the temptation remains. I suspect that it is a built in feature (or bug) in an avocation such as blogging.

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8 Responses to Blogging in the Grudge-o-sphere

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    I think I’ve deleted more comments without ever posting them than I have posted comments, all because I forced myself to stop and think, “Is this constructive? Is this charitable?” And yet, I know a few uncharitable remarks have slipped through my sensors. We seem to have this driving need to be right, and should anyone gainsay us, we take it as a personal affront.

    One of things I’ve found invaluable is to pay close attention to what people have to say, even if their comments seem to be filled with invectives that contribute little. Paying close attention to those who disagree with me, or hold a much different viewpoint, has actually helped me learn and grow (after the anger has cleared). To this, I have to extend special thanks to Michael Iafrate, for calling my attention to various errors I have committed, even if his means of communicating such errors is a little more abrasive than I’d prefer. I still don’t agree with him on a vast array of issues, but he has helped me learn by challenging me to make thoughtful and charitable responses.

    We need to be willing to accept criticism. We need to be willing to admit that we might be wrong from time to time, and we need to be introspective enough to realize when we are. When we start with the premise, “How could I be wrong on this issue, to have drawn such remarks?”, then we can start to formulate good responses. Because, as we argue out with ourselves our reasoning, we lay the blueprints for hopefully a strong argument, and if we still are convinced we are right, we at least have something intelligible to say in response.

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    I’m sorry you feel that way, Mark. I don’t know, though, from your comment if you feel the post shouldn’t have been written at all, or if it was subtly offensive, or just missed the point. Frankly, DC’s frank admission of guilt in adding to the blogstorm now and then, with comments not quite thought out, is an important reminder to us all.

    I would like to know your thoughts specifically how the post adds to the fire. (Whether or not DC wants to hear it, I would. We’re always on the lookout for improving the quality of our blog.)

  • John Henry says:

    I suspect that it is a built in feature (or bug) in an avocation such as blogging.

    I think that’s right. Alan Jacobs has a post up today about the limits of blogging, which I think is worthwhile. He points out that the infrastructure of blogs and comment threads is not very conducive to thoughtful, nuanced discussion. Ad hominems and sloganeering often become par for the course.

    It seems to me that this has a corrosive effect over time. I can think of many well-known bloggers who are almost unreadable at this point on certain topics. Like everything else, blogging has its benefits and its drawbacks. Here’s a link to Alan’s post:

    http://theamericanscene.com/2009/02/09/what-blogs-can-and-can-t-do

  • Elaine says:

    One of the emotional/spiritual dangers of too much blogging, for me, has been exposure to a lot of the toxic comments people make, which start spilling over into my general attitude toward life and even, regrettably, into how I talk to my husband and daughter. This is especially true of newspaper website blogs, particularly those that aren’t well moderated.

    With Catholic blogs, the danger for me isn’t so much uncharity and viciousness as it is temptation to despair and discouragement. Of course there are a lot of very serious issues going on out there with regard to pro-life, marriage, lay movements (e.g. the Legionnaires of Christ scandal), etc. They deserve attention and I do not mean to minimize them.

    Likewise, Catholic bloggers who promote particular lay movements or private revelations, or things like homeschooling which are praiseworthy but which I do not myself have the means to participate in probably do not intend to sound “holier than thou,” or make me feel like a second-class Catholic for not participating in them, but I may take them that way.

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