If you don’t have something nice to say…

Sometimes I worry that we’ve forgotten common decency on the internet.

We think that it’s OK to magnify what we perceive to be character flaws in bloggers in public, for all to see.

We think that because certain bloggers have achieved a level of success, they are now open to public criticism of their character (which is different from their ideas.)

I fear that we’re losing our sense of decorum and decency.

A blogger I respect greatly recently called out a couple of bloggers I also admire, and disagreed with them on his well-read blog.  The first post was a disagreement with ideas.  And this I can handle.  He went point by point through a blog post another blogger had written, and explained why he disagreed with each point.  This brings people’s thinking on the concept forward, so I can live with it (although if it were me, I would have been mortally embarrassed to be called out in such a public way on such a well-read blog.)

In a post later in the week, he attacked an A-List blogger’s character (calling him “snarky” when he responded to comments, and announcing to the world that he had unsubscribed.)  This bothers me more, and here’s why.

  1. First, this A-List blogger puts a lot of heart and soul into every post he writes, and I have personally been GREATLY helped in my business by what this person puts out for free.
  2. Second, I worry when the blog community turns on itself.  We are in the business of putting out ideas.  And those ideas are open to discourse.  When that discourse is respectful, we can all learn something.  But when it turns personal, we are losing sight of ideas, and instead tearing down people.

I think we sometimes forget that whether you’re an A-lister or a D-lister, we’re all still people.  People with feelings.  Just because you’re successful, does that mean you should be attacked as a person?  That’s certainly not the kind of environment I want to create for my kids.

As a blogger myself, I’ve been put down by people, and told I’m doing it all wrong.  Fortunately for me, most of this has happened in private.  It makes me feel awful whenever people do it, though, because this blog is a labor of love.  I do it to help as many people as possible, while also building my business.  If you put your heart and soul into something, with the intention of helping others, and then find yourself to be the recipient of personal attacks, how would that make you feel?

Bloggers who have achieved certain levels of success have learned a whole lot along the way.  People who envy their position may criticize, but as they say, until you’ve walked a mile in another man’s shoes, don’t judge.  That A-List blogger may know something you don’t.

I think the debate of ideas is a great thing.  We can help each other learn and grow when we discuss ideas in a respectful way.  I just disagreed with something Jay Baer wrote yesterday, and I told him so in the comments.  We had a good discussion there.

But when we start slamming each other personally, we create a blogging environment that is destructive, and that squashes the very ideas we’re trying to promote in the first place.

I, for one, am calling for an end to the madness.  Let’s remember what our parents told us.  If you don’t have something nice to say (about someone’s character) then don’t say anything.  Bloggers have feelings too.

Image Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer

15 Responses to If you don’t have something nice to say…
  1. @clementyeung
    November 23, 2010 | 10:00 am

    Wow Jen, can I just say subscribe? Yes please!

    Insightful and much needed post – as with Jay I’ve been on both sides.

    It’s a new-found power when you see hundreds – thousands of people reading and interacting with your content. It’s easy to lose sight of the ball and start to give yourself a false self-created sense of grandeur. As I said, I’ve been here and done this before (everyone is probably thinking – why the hell were YOU there?! har har) and for those of us with a conscience, it leaves us feeling guilty that we could fall short of our standards.

    SO – I believe the real test of an online celebrity is their ability to maintain grace, respect and trust. Any celebrity, regardless of online or offline status that can maintain these things is a great role model in my books.

    Thanks for reminding us all Jen!

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 23, 2010 | 10:13 am

      Thanks for your comment Clement. It is quite easy to get swept away when lots of people are listening to (and agreeing with) your ideas. I love that line “The real test of an online celebrity is their ability to maintain grace, respect and trust.” We as bloggers all need to hold ourselves to this if we want to create a community for ourselves that we can be proud of.

  2. Danny Brown
    November 23, 2010 | 9:58 am

    Hi Jen,

    Ah, that would be me then :)

    Sorry you (and Shelly) feel that way. Perhaps I should have used different examples – Chris isn’t the only one who has responded to comments with “snark”. I used both Chris and Brian as an example since they were two folks where I went from one “side”, if you like, to the other.

    I’ve mentioned my surprise at responses on Chris’s own blog in the comments. Sure, we get riled with commenters and often want to reply in a different way. But I don’t feel sarcasm or snark make a good case for the reply.

    Chris seems to agree in his post today (I found your post via the comments there). Of course, Chris could also disagree and that would be his “right” – as I mention in my own comment there, none of us are universally right, we all just think we sometimes might be.

    Again, sorry you feel it was a slam – I was offering it up as an example.

    Thanks for the discussion,

    Danny.

    • Jim Genet
      November 23, 2010 | 10:06 am

      Now this is becoming a good discussion. A calm reasoned response to being called out makes me want to read more. Thanks for your response Dan. I will look forward to reading more.

      • Jennifer Fong
        November 23, 2010 | 10:15 am

        Agreed Jim! Really happy we can have a calm reasoned discussion on this. It brings us all forward as a community of bloggers.

      • Danny Brown
        November 23, 2010 | 11:17 am

        Hey there Jim,

        Thanks, sir, appreciate it, and hopefully I can continue to offer more than my snark. ;-)

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 23, 2010 | 10:07 am

      Hey Danny! :) You know I have the greatest of respect for you and your work. I think 12for12K was a stroke of genius. As I said, I’m all for the open discussion of ideas. I just hope we all can stay respectful of one another at the same time. We are a community as bloggers, and need to build each other up. You have also achieved a great level of success, and I think that brings a certain level of responsibility…the responsibility to model how we should be treating one another. There are ways to disagree without making other people feel bad. As I said to another commenter, maybe I’m naive. But I think we can say things to each other nicely, and still make our points. My 2 cents.

      • Danny Brown
        November 23, 2010 | 11:23 am

        I hear you Jen, and it’s definitely something I’ll take on board. As a long-time reader of my blog (and thank you for that!), you know I take my community seriously, and their thoughts into account in everything I do.

        I’ll try and keep that in mind in future posts. ;-)

        • Jennifer Fong
          November 23, 2010 | 1:23 pm

          Danny, you know I love your work. And I have certainly had my own snarky moments. :) For all of us, though, we need to think about the long-term impact of our words. They’re powerful. I so appreciate all you do, and that you’ve chimed in here.

  3. Shelly Kramer
    November 23, 2010 | 9:25 am

    Bravo, Jen. Bravo. I know the situation of which you speak and feel exactly the same way. I can’t imagine someone calling me out in that way (and I can take criticism and welcome a rousing debate) … but in these instances, it’s not criticism in a good way, but rather seems mean-spirited and spiteful. I just don’t get that.

    I know someone who seems to only lurk on Twitter and blogs so that he can call people out, point fingers and start what is thinly disguised as “discussions” but which are really pissy little fights. The first few times I saw that, I was surprised. Then disgusted. Now, I completely tune out him out altogether. I wonder if bullies realize that the greatest slight they can receive is to just earn being ignored. I doubt it. But it makes me feel good.

    Great post – thanks for sharing your thoughts on a tricky subject.

    Shelly
    @shellykramer

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 23, 2010 | 9:51 am

      Thanks for commenting Shelly. I’m all for debate of ideas. But when people get mean, that bugs me. What is it about the internet that makes people think that’s OK? I really do believe we need to help shape this environment for our kids. I, for one, want to see that environment build people up, not tear them down.

      I appreciate all the good you put out there! Sending you lots of virtual cupcakes! :)

  4. Jay Baer
    November 23, 2010 | 8:55 am

    Excellent post Jennifer. Thanks for the link.

    I’ve been on both sides of this aisle. Blogging is a personal endeavor, by definition. Thus, when your ideas are attacked (even rightfully) it can be painful. Some people are better at handling that than others – the same is true IRL.

    But, the measure of a blogger, consultant, business, or nation isn’t how they handle themselves when things are peachy, it’s how they handle it when things are all f’d up.

    That said, some bloggers (and commenters) just seem to enjoy being a-holes, again just like IRL.

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 23, 2010 | 9:04 am

      Jay, thanks for commenting. I agree with you that the attack on ideas can be painful. Is it naive to want thoughtful discourse instead of mean-spirited attacks? I know the people involved in this have good hearts. I believe we could do this if we chose to.

      Again, I appreciate your thoughts here.

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