I'm a bit behind the wave on the recent dust-up at Les Blogs between Mena Trott and Ben Metcalfe. Wave? Was there a wave?
But I've had a chance to watch the video of the talk and questions, view the BetterBadNews report that Tish highlighted, and read Mena's blog post about how she and Ben left things. What struck me was Mena's question:
Is it possible to have the sort of productive face-to-face connection or conversation that Ben M. and I had offline in an online world? And what can we, as bloggers, do to facilitate that?
I think the answer is "Yes!" But this question is a perfect lead-in to a panel session at the upcoming SXSW Interactive convened by Nancy White and me titled "Us and Them: A Blog Conversation Guide (cf. Nancy's description of the panel). Nancy and I will be joined by Koan Bremner, Grace Davis (cf. Grace on civility), and Tish Gier, all of whom have made mention of the panel and the topic in various places. And since Les Blogs it seems that "civility" is in. Well, in for a good deal of discussion or a fair amount of drubbing or both.
My interest in civility was sparked when I came across Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni, a cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project. This book forced me to reflect on my own behavior, and, to make changes. It also challenged my preconception that civility is about manners and being nice. In a crowded world manners and kindness are needed, but not sufficient. I'm only being civil when I'm listening to others, asserting myself, and taking responsibility for my behavior. I've found it impossible to avoid stepping on other's toes, or opinions. But I've also found it possible to apologize when I've hurt someone. And as Mena's story shows, it can make a world of difference.
For me, my habit of splitting between myself and others, and between us and them (when I think I'm part of a like-minded group), happens in a blink and more often than not leads to a conversational (or relational) dead end. (Before I know what's happened I'm thinking "I'm OK and you're a jerk!") But sometimes I'm aware that there are more than two perspectives. And this I find most generative ....