Saturday, September 29, 2007

On Common Courtesy

It seems that at least some people do not understand common courtesy. So, in the interest of smoothing the interaction online and in real world society, and as a paean to my idol, Miss Manners, I will attempt to define what I consider Common Courtesy.

There are many things that common courtesy is not: it is not being nice all the time; it does not preclude a touch of sarcasm, albeit such sarcasm should be couched in the most polite terms; it sadly is not all that common (like common sense, unlike the common man); it does not include using the word 'whom' when 'who' is actually grammatically correct;* it is not uncritical acceptance of anything another does or says; and it is most certainly not being so open-minded that one's brains fall out.

What is common courtesy? First and foremost, it means using those 'magic words' one learned as a child: please, thank you, you're welcome, I'm sorry. As for thank you, 'it's ok,' 'no problem,' 'np,' 'no worries,' and 'sure' are not synonymous with 'you're welcome.' I try to thank every person who interacts with me online, even those who have been role-playing or otherwise interacting with me regularly for upwards of two years. Even in a chat or scene or email that I felt was somewhat lackluster, I am still grateful for the time and effort the other person spent typing at, to, or for me. Those two little words, 'thank you,' take only a moment to type, and do not mean that you are less cool, or less independent, or in any way inferior to the person to whom you say them. If anything, it makes you look more gracious, and, like charm, should leave both of you feeling good about yourselves.

Typing 'excuse me for a (few, several) minutes' is another form of common courtesy online, particularly when interacting 'live' instead of posting to a BB or emailing. One doesn't need to go into intricate detail about one's bodily functions, needs, or real world intrusions. But saying, or better yet, asking, 'please excuse me' lets your partner(s) know that you will not be typing for a reasonable amount of time. They can then tend to their own needs, or pose around you, answer other chats or mail, or at least be spared just sitting there wondering if you've been bumped, or missed a pose or comment, or are composing the great American novel for your reply, or are coming back at all. Yes, it takes a few seconds to type, but it spares the other person concern, and that's what common courtesy is all about.

Apologizing prettily is another form of common courtesy. A quick 'sorry, I missed your pose/note/comment' is adequate when indeed that is what happened, especially if combined with a quick response to said missed interaction (which doesn't necessarily mean a short response, just one typed as rapidly as you can while still maintaining reasonable grammatical accuracy). If you have, however, truly offended your partner by springing an unwelcome surprise on him or her, or made some kind of racial or ethnic slur, or even lost your dignity because you had a bad day at work, your mom caught you looking at porn, or your lover poured dinner down the garbage disposal because you wouldn't get off the damn computer, insulted his or her intelligence, hurt his or her feelings, then a more detailed apology is in order. It is called 'begging forgiveness' for a reason. You don't demand forgiveness. You don't use the word 'but' in your apology. Saying, 'Hey, I was really out of line, *but* your response was so idiotic it *made* me respond offensively' is not an apology at all. It just adds insult to injury, as you make the offended party responsible for your offensive behavior (which is, by the way, a red-flag sign of an abuser; he or she blames the victim). A courteous response is something along the lines of, 'Please, could you find it in your heart to forgive me? I am so sorry I hurt/distressed/offended/mis-used you. I have no excuse except my own thoughtlessness. If you will give me the chance, I will try to make amends.' A little bonus to a pretty apology, especially a heart-felt one, is that it is very hard for the other person not to grant forgiveness, or at least depart in manner that leaves both of you with your dignity intact.

Common courtesy means overlooking typos and misspellings, not pointing them out. You can use the misspelled word in your next pose, spelling it correctly. That's a very non-offensive way of helping your partner become familiar with the word. If your partner asks, or includes a (sp?) after the word, you can gently tell him or her that the usage was incorrect. But everyone, particularly people so engrossed in online interaction that they are typing with speed and passion, makes mistakes. To interrupt scene the interaction to point out the mistakes is both churlish and disruptive. If the other person's use of English is so poor that you cannot relate to him or her, then find a point at which to break it off and excuse yourself. 'I don't think we are the best match here, I'm so sorry,' is far more polite than 'you can't write worth a damn, I can't believe anyone interacts with you.' I'm not talking about the times when someone posts to the wrong window, or board, or partner, or the mis-typed line is so funny you want to share the laugh. One of my partners recently removed his head; at a later date I had him removing his eyes. We both laughed over these typos, and took it as a sign that we should probably give up and go to bed. But to pinpoint a partner's mistakes, especially repeatedly, is not a kindness. If the other person asks for specifics because he or she wants to improve, then you are free to direct that person to a grammar primer (there are many online), or to suggest a client, blog editor and so on with a spell checker.

So, how does one deal with the real jerks, @ssholes, pissy-wankers and other unpleasant people one is bound to meet now and then both online and rl? First of all, in all likelihood you'll meet more of these kinds of people online. A big part of that reason is that they aren't afraid you'll punch them in their noses. Thus they think they can shed that oil of common courtesy which reduces the inevitable friction when people interact. Common courtesy doesn't not mean you must be 'nice' to these people, it only means that you must cloak yourself ever more tightly in the protective powers of politeness. Give him or her the last word, and then do that wonderful thing you cannot do real life...put the person on +ignore. Ah, if we could only do that to the unpleasant neighbors, over-bearing family, rude co-workers, indifferent customer service workers and others who set our teeth on edge. You can find a way to cleverly respond to rudeness, by using the person's statements in an amusing, but telling way. One of my favorite answers to inappropriate questions, I think Dear Abby said it, is 'I'll forgive you for asking, if you'll forgive me for not answering.' That's such a lovely little statement, it politely reminds the asker that you hold some issues privately, and has that little undertone of caution: if the other won't forgive you for not answering, then you are not obliged to forgive the asker for asking. In either case, you have politely refused to answer.

Common courtesy, at the last, means holding yourself with dignity and respect, and holding others in the same light until they convince you that they are undeserving of such treatment. At which point, you are free (and encouraged) to cease all interaction with this person, instead of starting a flame war in which no one wins. It is the original 'rule of the sandbox.' You don't have to play with anyone who makes you feel bad. The corollary is that you are charged with treating others the way you wish they'd treat you...the old Golden Rule. With common courtesy as your cloak and shield, you'll find navigating the treacherous routes of human interaction are much easier. And at the end of the day, you can look at yourself in the mirror with clear eyes and a peaceful heart.

*Side note, whom takes the preposition (of, to, for, with, under, over, around and through, etc.). Who doesn't. One way to remember is to substitute I or me for who or whom. If it is the word 'me' that sounds right, remember that it has an 'm' as does 'whom.' So it is 'who goes there' since it would be 'I go there,' not 'me go there' (unless you are playing Tonto, Tarzan, Frankenstein or a barbarian). Who is calling? Well I am (is) calling. It belongs to whom? It belongs to me. This grammatical tip is brought to you by Sesame Street and the words Please, Thank You, You're Welcome, and I am so very sorry.)

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