Manners 2, People Nothing

(September 05, 2008) Do good manners ever allow for harsh behavior? After last week's Rodney King style post (Can't we all just get along?) on the importance of decorum, I'm hoping to strike a bit of balance. Harsh behavior is a fundamental, though unpleasant, part of good manners.

Firm boundaries make for thriving communities.

It's been an interesting week on The filibustering and adhominems in the comments to Digging v1.17 morphed into the famous Gladys Kravitz incident and the wonderful Motivate Me piece. These two forum discussions show the strengths and weaknesses of communication online.

It was deja vu for me.

When Jason Davis waded into the Digging v1.17 conversation, he was acting like the sheriff. is a community and occasionally, someone has to enforce the community standards. The brouhaha that followed his intervention completely sidestepped the question of how you effectively handle behavior outside the norm. Being the bouncer is never a quick trip to big time popularity.

Sadly, community requires the occasional enforcement action. It is, in fact, the best of manners. It's just like a maitre d' escorting a patron outside for a loud cell phone conversation.

Some years back, I used a catch phrase from Saturday Night Live. For years, Dan Aykroyd's interaction with Jane Curtin on the fake news segment) would begin with "Jane, you ignorant slut." In a fussy exchange with a pioneering Recruiting Blogger, I opened a piece with that phrase.

Boy was I surprised. The degree to which I was taken to task was astonishing. In the years since SNL's heyday, it became unacceptable to even hint at that sort of disregard. The hundreds of emails (and plenty of "piling on" by the kinds of folks who do that) were painful and time consuming.

The same kind of "we know what you really meant and it is nasty" sentiment flowed towards Maureen Sharib for likening a long winded contributor to a similar character from Bewitched. It was strange to see people who are in the business of passing judgment on people passing judgment on each other for passing judgment on each other.

That's the sort of circular weirdness that happens online. It happens when everyone forgets that the other side of the monitor is another person. Intentions were good, outcomes were less than good. Everyone learned. Well, almost everyone.

Like my quote from Saturday Night Live, the characterization fit. Beautifully drawn, it captured the simultaneous and paradoxical qualities that drove emotions so high: Verbose, self-absorbed and good at seeing an aspect of the truth.

Do you suppose that we're supposed to learn to inhabit this space on a diet of pure sugar and opportunities to help someone make a placement?. Squabbling is part and parcel of community. Freedom from judgment and boundary disputes is a pretty unlikely scenario for the future of the community.

There are some bright spots. The Motivate Me piece really showcases the variety of people who inhabit our fishbowl.

The two pieces, Gladys and Motivate show off the high points of our community. Rugged, opinionated and smart. The fact that feelings run high and the number of comments is passing record levels means that we're thriving.

Really good community is sort of messy.


John Sumser has been chronicling the Recruiting Industry forever. You can catch his work at He's the CEO of the Recruiting Roadshow. Join the fun in Dallas (9/25), Silicon Valley (10/23) or Atlanta in early December

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John, there's that old saying about how one cannot bake a cake without breaking a few eggs. I've always loved that adage - so fitting. This "whole catastophe" that is our life comes with both joy and sorrow and can be a messy, messy business. That is the nature of birth and rebirth. Death is silent, death is calm. Give me life anyday.

"Anything in history or nature that can be described as changing steadily can be seen as heading toward catastrophe.” ~ Susan Sontag (American Writer, Activist and Critic, 1933-2004)
My favorite quote from this article: "It was strange to see people who are in the business of passing judgment on people passing judgment on each other for passing judgment on each other." .... just perfect...reminds me of something dominating the news networks these days... politics.

And... I get it... Yin and Yang. Personally, "Balance" is one of my favorite words... though a courageous undertaking to say the least.

But, I have a questions regarding community architecture and continuity of conversation; When and how do we determine, and or decide, when a conversation has been hijacked (spun off from the original track the original author and participants were on)? Or, do we even make that distinction?

The reason I ask: It seems that another kind of "messy" that happens in communities is when discussions become duplicated and or fragmented all over the community... un-centralized. Though I don't think 100% centralization is possible for a "conversation", an architecture designed to create "better" centralization seems to be a worthy undertaking. I look for the lesson within a conversation. If the conversation is diluted because of fragmentation, it becomes much less likely that I, or any other member, will ever "catch" the knowledge within the conversation.

I don't have answers... but would love to hear feedback regarding manners, hijacking and conversation centralization... real solutions would be great to hear.

Thanks for another good article, John.
Bad neighbors make good fences.

You know, when I started in the Internet recruiting training industry, my child was 1 year old. Said kid is now over 10 and 3 more followed; the youngest one is 5.5.

The whole discussion reminded me of what I tell my two youngest to say whenever anyone tries to get a rise out of them:

"Thank you for your input!"

It takes two to fight. Sometimes respectful discussions can really open gates and insights and deliver a far more professional relationship and understanding...and sometimes one or both of the people involved just want to mud-sling.

I have enough of that with my kids and their school angst and their teen angst and their "hey! Mom is resting! Let's Angst!" angst. Taking it to the professional communities - 'tis a waste of time indeed.

Loved the point:

"The two pieces, Gladys and Motivate show off the high points of our community. Rugged, opinionated and smart. The fact that feelings run high and the number of comments is passing record levels means that we're thriving".

So very true.

Data points,

Barbara Ling
Thanks John - nice dose of reality.

There's nothing toxic about a community with squabbles. I'd rather think that the community living on the sugar diet you noted would be rather shallow and short-lived.

Here's to more lessons learned ~ and more to follow.
Back in college I had a fraternity brother who was at my off-campus house during a party. It was 4 a.m., and I was shutting things down. He informed me in a drunken stupor that it was my responsibility to let him stay, as I threw the party.

I made a few comments about leaving, which he ignored. And then I picked him up and tossed him out on my lawn. It was my house, and I had tried to be reasonable, but he had his own house to go to.

The next year - he threw a party at his house. Everyone had to be very careful. We weren't to spill, or make to much noise, and he made us all leave early.

I find that many lessons in college were learned outside of the classroom. And those who demand you act in a certain way when you're hosting, often wouldn't allow it when they're hosting.

And so I say to people...if you don't like my party - go home and throw your own. But then again, I'm not nearly as polite as some of you.

Passing judgement on each other is how we set boundaries in a community. As for moderation, there's a reason that community managers and management are the hot topics in social media. It's certainly not confined to recruiting forums.
"We are under no obligation to care for drunken strangers who will not sober up, especially those who, in their intoxication, try to kill us."

Jim, if I thought some jerk was going to drive home drunk if I didn't keep him overnight and perhaps kill somebody I would think it incumbent upon me to let him stay. And we might have laws here to that effect. If you are serving the booze, you take some responsibility for dishing out too much. Not sure if it's law but it might be.

All the same, this is a tangential issue and I agree that street smarts are often more important than any other degree.

Luckily it was college, and he had only two blocks to walk. If he were driving, I would have called for a sober driver. That's what pledges are for.
The evolution of this post is entertaining . . . which is where I find the real value in RBC. The lack of boundaries within a social media construct allow Jim to draw interesting analogies about college parties, for astute persons such as Dennis to (with no fear of an iron fist falling on him) state that a "sugar-diet" RBC will stifle the community instead of build it up, for Barbara to expand our minds through drawing correlations to motherhood, etc. The lack of boundaries that enables all of us to inject our thoughts and experiences is what enables growth - I laugh, smile, sometimes smirk, reel . . . but that's the value :) It's not always the initial generation of the discussion - it's the iteration and piling of new spices and ingredients into the pot that provide for entertainment and in many cases, enlightenment.

A truism is that we listen to one another's thoughts and ideas, and based on our reality and existentialism, we adopt or reject them (normally a hybrid of the two). I think John has some really good ideas and thoughts . . . and some not so good ones. So did Aristotle. So did Isaac Newton. So did Galileo. So did Einstein. Frankly, so do all of us. I think some of the "Digging into RBC" is shaped by his own personal experiences and realities . . . which may or may not hold value to the rest of us. It's all relative. In a world more charactized by quantum mechanics and true interconnectedness, John's "digging" is nothing more than him presenting the reality of posts and discussions as he sees them. Perhaps some agree with his analogies; perhaps some see levels of "spin"; perhaps some log in and reach each and every "digging" . . . and perhaps some don't even bother. That's the intersection of community with individual choice.

There are no Temple Priests or Templar Knights, and if we think that a social network is a place to recreate the absolute power of the Catholic Church during centuries past, it's my contention that we're missing the boat. When I say that, I am suggesting that we recognize that there is a beauty in science - and if we learn anything from the great minds that have come before us, let's keep in mind that boundaries are constraints, and some are meaningless. This is as true in politics as it is a social network . . . as it is a calculus equation.

In fact, in my own tiny mind, SourceCon 2008 was a watershed conference in our space. Why? Because much of the content presented stood in stark contrast to the 'thought leadership' leveraged from times past, such as our industrialization era. Steve Jobs was more present in spirit than Henry Ford. Discussions were a quantum leap from other conferences I've been to in the past . . . and to echo a previous point, this wasn't due to the initial presentations/sessions all the time. What I overheard were people brainstorming and discussing new notions; notions that represent the inverse of groupthink. The result? Opportunities to progress and overcome mental plateaus (see the Finance function in the late 1960s' and Marketing in the late 1990s').

It's a fun time to be in our space as the old guard collides with the new as we witness the passing of sacred cows. A consilience is at hand if you slow down enough to not blindly accept each whitepaper as truth and actually smell the flowers and breathe the air around you. I'm happy to be here today, but that's also probably a manifestation of my own existentialism and way of looking at the world (which may or may not hold any value to the reader) :P

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