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When to Walk Away

Since a number of people said I should go ahead and do it, I’ve created a Jim C. Hines Fan Page over on Facebook.  I blame you all.


I found myself in several Internet squabbles last week.  One started on Twitter after one of my #Amazonfail posts.  In that case, the other person and I swapped e-mails, and that was the end of it.  I don’t think we changed each other’s minds, but it gave me another perspective to think about, and I appreciate that.

Another didn’t go so well.  This was someone I know not to bother talking to in normal circumstances, but he was talking crap about a friend of mine, so I called him on it.  The conversation went downhill from there.  I eventually walked away, but I should have ended it much sooner.

It’s hard to walk away.  I know where xkcd is coming from with this strip.  It’s one thing to have an intelligent debate.  Unfortunately, most of these arguments end up being the opposite of intelligent … yet the more the stupidity grows, the harder it is to walk away.  It’s like the mosquito that keeps buzzing around the room, and you can’t go to bed until you’ve squashed the damn thing.

But you can’t squash online stupid.  So I’m trying to learn when to let it go.  As a part of that lesson, I put together some questions to ask myself, to help me recognize when it’s time to stop.

  1. What point(s) did I set out to make?  Have I made them?
  2. Am I just pouring my own stupid onto the fire now?
  3. Is there anything the other person could say to make me agree with their point of view?  (If not, it’s a good bet nothing I say will make them change their mind, either.)
  4. Who else is involved, either actively or otherwise?  For example, arguing with a Publish America author might not change that author’s mind, but might educate and help others reading the exchange.
  5. Have I had this same argument with this person before?  (If so, see Einstein’s quote about repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result.)
  6. Is this spilling into my real life?  (Am I going back to the argument when I should be writing?  Am I letting this person make me cranky in my interactions with my family?)
  7. What is my goal?  Am I trying to win?  (Never going to happen.  What would “winning” even look like?)
  8. Would I say these words to the other person’s face?
  9. Can anything come of the argument that will make my life or anyone else’s better?

From time to time, my karate sensei talks about bullies and insults.  If someone tells you you’re ugly, you smile and say “Thank you very much,” then walk away.  Because why should that person’s opinion have any power over you?  They’re not the most important person in your life.  The people who do matter, they’re the ones whose opinions I should care about.  Not some online twit.

Easier said than done.  It feels almost unjust to allow someone to keep being wrong on the Internet.  “That person is Wrong!  We can’t let him get away with it!”

I hate fighting.  I’m not someone who takes pleasure is taunting or trashing another person online.  But I believe some battles do need to be fought.  I also think there’s a time when I’ve made my point and need to walk away.  I just need to get better about recognizing that time.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 8th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
I find myself in this problem all the time.
Feb. 8th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
I participate in a rather free-wheeling bulletin board for the K.C.Chiefs. Most of the posters are reasonably rational (for fans that is), but of course, there's always the contingent that either a)loves to argue or b) is always right and will never consider the fact they could be mistaken.

Some of the people on the board seem to enjoy these "altercations". Pesonally, I find a judicious use of the "ignore" function works well.

My on-line philosophy has become "Life's too short to deal with internet idiots. Ignore and move on." (I think that comes from my old days on Compuserve *grin*)
Feb. 8th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
It's Staples that had the ad campaign about the Easy Button, right?

Heck with that. I want an Ignore Button!
(no subject) - saetter - Feb. 12th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes when you have a front row seat to an internet flame war, it's like watching chimps throw poo at each other. They become angrier and angrier, screaming and jumping up and down shrieking louder and louder and throwing poo harder and faster, never realizing that the poo they are flinging, soils them as much as it does their opponent.

Not that I've watched you throw poo, your disagreements on your journal have always been civil, so I'd be interested in seeing what made you mad and how you responded. I'm betting for most of us veteran poo flingers, your's wouldn't even reach the rank of little lemur.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Yep. I've been in squabbles where I find myself starting to feel soiled just by association, and wondering if I'm starting to come off just as badly as the other person.

Things here have generally been mild and respectful, and I love that. I've tried to work to keep that tone, and I think the community of people who hang out here have done the same, building those expectations and standards. It's really nice.
(no subject) - mtlawson - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bearhand - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Years ago the cartoonist Donna Barr summed it up "If you win an argument with an idiot, what does that make you?" I've tried to make that my mantra, but sometimes the lizard brain takes over before the edit function kicks in.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
There's a quote about fighting in the mud with a pig that fits pretty well too. (You both end up filthy, and the pig enjoys it.)
(no subject) - barbarienne - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
One thing to remember about people who are horribly, tragically wrong is that if you point this out to them, they may reject it violently, and you feel like you haven't done any good. [using the general 'you' here, not specifically YOU] However, conversion is often a gradual process. Even if you feel like you've failed to make a point, you may have made an impression on that person that over time will shift their thinking. This is why it's very important to step away at the right time, because persisting in an argument after you've made your point, you risk losing this benefit, of having your very good point simmer slowly in the background. Also important, I think, and often forgotten is that the graceful way to win a fight is to let the other person save face--once you've made what you think is the winning argument, throw them a small concession so they don't look like an idiot. "Thanks for sharing your perspective with me. I'll think about it." or "I can see how you would feel that way, given your experience." These are not lies--making these concessions is good for both sides and reminds you the other person is human.

It's so easy to get carried away, isn't it? These are some good thoughts and guidelines. I wish more people spent time thinking about this stuff.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
In some cases, yes. There are those, however, that I believe are completely incapable of accepting a worldview that doesn't mesh with their own beliefs. Sometimes I think it should be a listed disorder in the DSM.

You're right, though. The soft approach does tend to work so much better in a lot of cases. I think of it as online aikido :-)
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - coppervale - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - coppervale - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Feb. 8th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
I try to remember that XKCD panel on a regular basis. It helps. Particularly relevant in the SFWA Forum . . .
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jhetley - Feb. 8th, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
Sir--the answer to your question #7 above is: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."

Of course, the "ignore" function also works great, as @nighwolfwriter points out.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
The crushing just isn't as satisfying online. So often I find my enemies don't even realize they've been crushed!
(no subject) - barbarienne - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jhetley - Feb. 8th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Feb. 9th, 2010 04:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I tend to be extremely avoidant. It's not the healthiest way.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
I think everyone needs to find the balance that's right for them. In my case, I just need to remember how easy it is to become completely unbalanced over something that probably doesn't matter in the big picture.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
I think the sensei is right. Online it's easier to tell yourself: the person with that username is an idiot, don't listen and don't react. There's more distance than there is irl because you can't see their face.
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
People vary. Some people find it much easier to react online.
(no subject) - nathreee - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
wise advice
"A few more Rules may fitly be given here, for correspondence that has unfortunately become controversial.

"One is, don’t repeat yourself. When once you have said your say, fully and clearly, on a certain point, and have failed to convince your friend, drop that subject: to repeat your arguments, all over again, will simply lead to his doing the same; and so you will go on, like a Circulating Decimal. Did you ever know a Circulating Decimal come to an end? "

Lewis Carroll
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
Re: wise advice
Very good rule. Say it once, say it clearly, and if that fails, bring out the vorpal sword that goes snicker-snack! (Or just walk away, I suppose.)
Re: wise advice - acetachyon - Feb. 8th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: wise advice - ziactrice - Feb. 8th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: wise advice - marycatelli - Feb. 8th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
It depends on the venue, but in general when I get into an Internet argument (which is rarely) I recognise that I am not going to convince my opponent of anything. However, internet arguments are, in effect, public debates, and it's not necessarily about the single person you are arguing against - it's about all the others reading the thread. For that reason, mainting dignity and rationality are important. If you look dignified, and your opponent acts like an asshat, then generally speaking you are winning over the neutrals.
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Yep. Forget about rubbing the other guy's nose in his Wrongness. Make your point, make it well, and get on with it unless they bring up something new that actually requires/deserves a response.

It all sounds so sensible in theory :-)
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
Three rules
Unless genuinely exploring a viewpoint (or having fun winding up some mindless fundy ####-head ('cos everybody has to have a hobby)):

1 Stay for three exchanges (since after that you're probably repeating yourself).
2 Make each post shorter than your previous post.
3 Make each post shorter than the one you are replying to.
Feb. 8th, 2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Three rules
Good advice.

I would add:

4. If things get personal, walk away.

My own most frequent mistake is to assume good will. If others attack me personally, I assume they're just not communicating well. So I stick around until I actually start to get angry, by which time it's a lot harder to disengage. Much better to refrain from engaging with such people in the first place.


OK, make that 4 then: - zornhau - Feb. 8th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OK, make that 4 then: - (Anonymous) - Feb. 8th, 2010 11:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: OK, make that 4 then: - cissa - Feb. 9th, 2010 02:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Oh so well said.
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Now if I could learn to follow my own advice...
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
There's a reason I stayed off the internet for the entirety of the weekend, despite being snowed in (and despite agreeing to do a sensible write-up of the reason publishers have not rushed to embrace the ebook).

Ms. Manners also recommends the "say 'thank you' and walk away" approach, though she notes that it's effective because it leaves the insulter wondering how you managed to find a compliment in their words. Confusion to the enemy!
Feb. 9th, 2010 02:08 am (UTC)
Miss Manners is a goddess.
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
From time to time, my karate sensei talks about bullies and insults. If someone tells you you’re ugly, you smile and say “Thank you very much,” then walk away. Because why should that person’s opinion have any power over you? They’re not the most important person in your life. The people who do matter, they’re the ones whose opinions I should care about. Not some online twit.

I have a difficult time with this, personally. I don't argue online, but I'm bad about letting what other people say/their opinions affect me and make me feel bad. This is something I need to work on.

I think your thoughts in this post are right on. Online arguments just aren't worth it.
Feb. 8th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
Same here. I don't know why we give so much power to others, but it's there. Reminds me a bit of the way I can read 20 reviews of my work. 19 will be great, and 1 will be negative or nasty, and that's the one that sticks. It's hard learning to let the negative go.
(no subject) - queenoftheskies - Feb. 8th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 8th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Feb. 8th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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