OK, the moment has passed for this post too, but I’d better write it anyway.
A couple of months ago there was an incident on the internet. Someone upset someone with their behaviour, and were banned from participating in a particular forum until they apologised. So far, so commonplace, so dull.
It’s the fall-out that was particularly worrying. The thread surrounding this trivial incident spiralled out to over 100 contributions. Two things struck me- one was someone trying to claim that bluntness and abrasiveness isn’t rudeness, and another describing bluntness and abrasiveness as “honesty”. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that being nice, measured and thoughtful is dishonesty, but it does feel like a slight to reasonable, kind people to describe it as such.
I feel there is a problem, not just on line but in general, where a certain level of background aggression being seen as normal or “having a personality”. I mean I can understand people, get annoyed and passionate, it’s a sign they care, but there seems to be a level of excitableness that people treat as normal, rather than merely understandable. People who write in a mature, reasonable and non-aggressive tone are misjudged to be snotty and condescending.
In politics things need to be done. Abrasiveness and aggression are necessary evils- we need people to achieve things, and that isn’t always going to be achieved by being nice. Tolerance of abrasive personalities, and respect for what they achieve is often blurred to the point that people fail to acknowledge the problem nature of those personalities. Sometimes abrasiveness goes too far and those who either take a stand, or lack the coping skills to deal with it properly are often misdiagnosed as the problem, rather than the person suffering the problem.
Kindness, diplomacy, intelligence and thoughtfulness are also necessary and useful traits, these need to be valued too. We need to recognise these as positive traits, and far too often in politics they are dismissed as mere differences, or even worse weaknesses or negative traits.
This is a post that I should have written long ago.
About a month or so back, I posted a link to an xkcd cartoon. It was inspired by an incident around that I was going to write about. However every time I tried to write the article another incident came back to my mind, and threatened to swamp the piece I was trying to write. It’s obviously something I need to get out of my system. I keep alluding to this incident time and time again, so I think it’s time I got this off my chest.
I’m going back ten years now. I was a member of an association within the Liberal Democrats aimed at improving the use of information technology and the internet. A key committee member of this group was a problem. The person would respond to any perceived slight against people who lacked IT skills with a level of aggression that was totally inappropriate and out of proportion to what he was responding to. In addition he would be incredibly snide about technically skilled people, seemingly thinking clever people needed taking down a peg or two. I put up with it for a while, but the constant sniping got too much.
Firstly, I tried politeness. I sent a kind and friendly email, pointing out that he was being a bit over the top. I received an unexpected response, “Are you always this nasty”. Shocked that my tone had been so badly misinterpreted, I pointed out, that no, I wasn’t being nasty, I was trying to be helpful. More aggression. I called him publicly on the group mailing list over his behaviour. I was threatened with legal action for standing up to him!
I tried to address the problems directly by writing a philosophical article addressing people’s perspectives toward technology. This was met with public aggression and my conduct was falsely described as abusive.
So I wrote to the chairman of the group, expressing my concerns about the culture of aggression, and disrespect. And was ignored. Friends and acquaintances promised that the problematic behaviour that I was concerned about would be brought up at the next committee meeting. However I never found out if this happened or what action, if any, was taken. I tried to find if there was a complaints procedure for low-level bullying within the Liberal Democrats. There wasn’t.
By now I had a thing about low-level online bullying. I championed the case of a slightly autistic acquaintance who was being given a bad time on a private members forum. Again, the mods I messaged didn’t even acknowledge that I’d contacted them or reassure me that they were on the case.
Things have, thankfully, changed. The Liberal Democrats have introduced new codes of conduct. Not because of me, or anything I have written about here, I hasten to add, but because of more serious incidents of an altogether different nature that have come to light. While the seriousness and the nature of these incidents and complaints was far different to what I was dealing with, the new code of conduct is broad enough to define the sorts of things that I, and those I stood up for, as unacceptable. It also makes it clear that complaints and concerns like mine should not have been simply ignored.
Was the behaviour I stood up to that serious? No, not really. But even though the problem behaviour I experienced wasn’t a serious, it was a real and genuine problem, and I was right to stand up to it. While it was ultimately futile, and has remained with me for far too long, I remain proud of taking a stand.
I had intended this to be “getting the issue out of my system” and to an extent it has. This week I have refreshed my safeguarding training with the Scout Association, and was pleased to see their robust policies regarding bullying. It also confirmed that the behaviours I highlighted in the Lib Dems back in 2005 that went unacknowledged do constitute bullying, at least according to the definitions uses by the Scout Association.
Dizzy thinks (as spotted by Mark Pack) has noticed that back home, Stockport council have declared war on jargon, trying to reduce instances of management buzzwords in their website. This is an excellent initiative, but I’m worried there is some confusion over what is being achieved.
It’s a good move, but not for the reasons most seem to think. Jargon is language specific to an area of life which can easily be substituted by more everyday English. Technical language that can’t easily be understood by a moderately intelligent person and can’t easily be replaced by as many or fewer words in plain English is not jargon- it’s just technical language. To be jargon, a term must be both unnecessary and difficult to understand.
All but one of the phrases that are being eliminated are not jargon, but management speak. These are buzz-words repeated parrot fashion that are almost, but not quite, totally meaningless. Buzz words do not make you difficult to understand, but they do add little to what you say and make you look unimaginative, and unable to express yourself properly. People often think buzzwords make them look intelligent and capable, when the opposite is the case. The barriers created by buzz-words are not a problem of understanding, but in that they put the user into a separate social group to the reader.
At university we were told in management classes to avoid both jargon and buzzwords. Unfortunately 15 years later and there are people who haven’t cottoned on to the fact that parroting impressive phrases does not make you any brighter.
Management is not the only place we have buzz-words, you may notice from time to time the media and political circles of this country will latch on to a key phrase of the moment and repeat it add nausium. Past examples have been spin and sleaze.
Please, repeating the phrase of the moment does not help the message get across, it just makes you look foolish. Let’s all follow Stockport’s lead and try and eliminate buzzwords, so we can make the world a more friendly and imaginative place.
Since I started using the name, another Biscit arrived on the internet. They are an up and coming ISP. Having been working away in the background for a few years they have recently come to prominence as a big player, having completed aquisitions of rival companies including V21.
If you’re looking for inside info on Biscit the ISP and consultancy, you’re out of luck. You won’t find it here. I know nothing you can’t read in the digital press.