Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Zen of Blog Comments

The following is a short selection from a larger writing project I am working on. Given the shenanigans that went on over at Barbara's Buddhist blog yesterday and today, it seemed like a good thing to post.

In my opinion, making and receiving comments on blog posts should be treated in a similar way to how you would act with someone face to face. If you are committed to a spiritual path where honesty, compassion, and kindness are at the core, then it’s important to extend these traits into cyberspace. Although it’s harder to see and feel, what we say online can have just as much impact – positive or negative – as anything said in person. And because of the lack of non-verbal cues, it’s probably even more important to choose our words carefully while interacting with others online.

What I have witnessed online is that commenting on blog posts brings out the best and worst in us. When people are at their best, you can see ripple effects that spread across the world. A well timed supportive comment can mean all the difference to someone who is struggling and feeling isolated. A clear declaration of the truth in the middle of an embattled debate can shift the entire conversation. And sometimes, something someone says “goes viral,” spreading from blog to blog, across Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, positively impacting the views of hundreds and thousands of people.

And unfortunately, the same thing goes for comments on the worst end of the spectrum. A single personalized attack on a writer can shift an entire discussion in that direction. Lies can and do spread online, sometimes at an alarmingly fast rate. And the internet is littered with the wreckage of angry, hate fueled arguments that sometimes have spread into the flesh and blood world with terrible consequences.


Anonymous said...

Maybe It's not ironic that I've been thinking a lot about right speech, maybe it's because it's such a huge problem and leads to so many other misteps. I love these guidlines, from Austin Zen Center:

Is what I'm about to say going to improve this silence?

Don't talk about people who aren't in the room.

I think the worst part of what we say is that language is used to create stories, and stories are powerful spells that we can fall for.

Brikoleur said...

I wonder if the Net really does bring out the best and the worst in people, or if it's just that it makes it very difficult to ignore people you would otherwise ignore. I've encountered plenty of douchebags in meatspace, but they don't make much of an impact on my life simply because I don't go drink beer with them. They're only noticeable if they appear in a context where you have to interact with them, e.g. work.

On the Net, OTOH, everything is broadcast, and it takes a good deal of concerted effort not to interact or bump into douchebags. Add to this the attraction a train wreck holds, and drama is bound to happen.

Another characteristic of the Internet is that vocal douchebags stand out, whereas people who are quiet, sympathetic, and good listeners are invisible.

I wonder if there would be some way to break this dynamic, other than policing your own behavior, of course?

Nathan said...

Some interesting points, Petteri. I think you're right that it's plenty easy enough to run into crappy behavior anyway, and that the internet isn't unique in that aspect.

One thing I find challenging about the internet is that all the fighting, squabbling, and game playing just remains for anyone to see. You can run into arguments on blogs or forums or whatnot from 2 years ago just as easily as something still currently going on.

And given that it all stays there, people have to opportunity to keep piling on, long after the initial conflict has passed. I still have people commenting occasionally on the Genpo posts I wrote six months ago - and mostly people who are decidedly defending Genpo and pissed at the comments suggesting accountability, including my own post.

It's not so much that the conversation lingers - that can be a great thing - but more that in the case of Genpo, it's not a conversation - it's just a dogpile. Genpo's the best Zen master on the planet vs. Genpo's the biggest ass on the planet. It's a bar room conversation at best.

"Another characteristic of the Internet is that vocal douchebags stand out, whereas people who are quiet, sympathetic, and good listeners are invisible." This is pretty much true in regular life as well. After listening to the U.S. Congress and President Obama go at it for the past month or so, as well as a similar dynamic in my home state's legislature, it was quite clear that the loud, obnoxious folks won the day.

There has to be a way to shift some of this online, but I can't think of anything right now.

Brikoleur said...

There are a few people in my life who are quiet, sympathetic, and good listeners.

They do quite well in their lives, since they're also intelligent, patient, and make few enemies.

Their Net presence is near nil. Nor are they in politics. But that doesn't mean their presence in the world isn't felt. On my optimistic days, I feel they're the ones who really make a lasting impact. They quietly build what us loudmouths tear down.

It's not always the most visible ones that are the most important, as hard as that is to remember in the sound-and-fury mindscape that is the media and the Internet.

Nathan said...

"It's not always the most visible ones that are the most important, as hard as that is to remember in the sound-and-fury mindscape that is the media and the Internet." I'd say it's often those who are less visible that end up being the most important. I also have plenty of people in my life who have almost zero net presence, but who certainly have a lasting impact in the world.

Atomic Geography said...

Hokey Smokes Bullwinkle!

I had no idea that my poor word choice ("makes no sense") would set off such...well, I just don't know how to characterize it.

I haven't checked back here until today because I found Peterri's reaction to my comment focusing on "makes no sense" instead of what I thought the substance was. So I thought the minor exchange was over.

Hopefully better stated here, that karma is an beginingless lifetime phenonomen that includes previous and present lifetimes. If not understood this way, the word karma is being used in a way that does not conform to previous Buddhist usage. I see this is a problem because it leads to confusion. A different word might be a better choice for the idea of only this lifetime karma.

For my part, I find it useful to contemplate this when facing my own difficulties, financial, health or otherwise. When contemplating others difficulty It usually is best to focus on developing compassion rather than trying to make a karmic diagnosis with so little information lacking a Buddha level omnicience.

Nathan said...

Interesting what a few words can stir up, isn't it?

Brikoleur said...


Karma is the law of moral causation, and I think it is patently obvious that karmic causation does not stop with death—the moral consequences of your actions will not suddenly cease just because you died. If they did, the world would be a great deal simpler; all we'd have to do to make things right is kill the bad people.

What I have trouble swallowing is the idea that after death, "I" am reborn as some specific, unique, identifiable other "I", in the same sense that the "I" that went to sleep last night was reborn as the "I" that woke up this morning.

A fluid and changeable and slippery thing, this "I". The danger with the traditional view of rebirth is that it invests it with a solidity it doesn't have.

Atomic Geography said...

Peterri: "The danger with the traditional view of rebirth is that it invests it with a solidity it doesn't have."

I would agree with that statement if you replace "traditional" with "uniformed". All of the tradtional teaching on karma I have encountered avoid the fault you describe. Maybe you could be more specific about what you're referring to?

Brikoleur said...

@Bob: Sorry, but I have no interest in further discussion with you. Consider the last paragraph stricken and let's leave it at that.