The controversy over the SFWA Bulletin that erupted from the SFWA forums onto the wider internet this week brought to mind something that’s been bothering me for quite some time. The total lack of courtesy and respect that seems (to me at least) to be increasing when controversial topics are discussed.
My remarks in this post are intended to be general in nature and not refer to any specific blog, comment, web site, or person. While the controversy involving the Bulletin is what prompted this post, I’m referring to more than that.
The general trend I’ve seen is that one person will post something on a topic. Someone else comments on that post, taking a different position on whatever the issue under discussion happens to be. The comments may address the issue, or they may attack the person who wrote the original post, or both. Other people join the discussion, and it’s at this point that the personal attacks tend to pick up speed. Any serious discussion of the issue at hand often gets lost in the vitriol.
Like I said, this is a general trend. There are plenty of exceptions where ideas are discussed without resorting to personal attacks. But it seems to me that the personal attacks are increasing, where anyone expressing a dissenting view experiences attacks on themselves rather than their ideas. I’ve seen topics in which this is true on both sides of a discussion.
There’s an old saying I heard in high school that has stuck with me: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you want to convince me your position is correct, or at least has some merit, don’t launch personal attacks on me or anyone else with a different view. Even if I agree with your position, I’m going to lose respect for you and probably won’t visit your blog or read your column again. On the other hand, even if I completely disagree with you, I’ll follow your blog or read your posts if you present your position without resorting to personal attacks on people who see things differently. It’s possible to disagree with someone in a courteous manner. I’ll read things in which someone does this, in part to study how they do it so I can improve my responses.
The SFF community prides itself on its tolerance. That should include tolerance for ideas with which we disagree or even find offensive. Human beings are complex. No person consists of a single viewpoint. I have many friends with whom I agree on some things but disagree on others. So do you. At least I hope so. My life is richer for this. The SFF field is richer for the variety of opinions it contains, and my life is richer for this as well. Even if I don’t agree with or like all of them.