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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