I had another odd experience today. The details and personae don’t matter (and haven’t appeared here in many months). Basically, I read a direct quotation from a person I’m professionally acquainted with, on a third-party site. I found the quotation troublesome. I sent email to the person noting this (in an offhanded manner that could certainly be perceived as snark). I got back email noting:
- That the quotation was from a much longer response
- That I should know the person well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt
- That my snarkiness wasn’t appreciated
Here’s the thing. I sent private email indicating that I was surprised (offended?) by what was said. I did not blog about it. I don’t intend to blog about it (and never did).
I learned some time back how dangerous it is to comment on what somebody is reported to have said or displayed during a conference presentation, even if that person doesn’t choose to say they were misinterpreted. I wasn’t there; how could I understand the context? So I don’t do that any more. (It’s hard. Some of the conference writeups I read make my head hurt and inspire long, argumentative responses. Those responses don’t get written. Not anymore.)
Let’s not even get into what happens when you make perfectly reasonable interpretations and paraphrases of what someone’s said. Straw men! Nobody ever said that! You’re making it up! BAD blogger!
This is a little different. It’s a direct quote, a long enough quote to (presumably) be in context. I would have felt justified in blogging about it–but my impression is now that, at least here, that would be considered mean-spirited and unfair. Why? Because the person, prominent enough to be interviewed more than once, said other things–and, in some ways, what was quoted could be considered out of a broader context.
What next? If I comment on somebody’s own blog post or on an article someone writes, and say anything that’s less than favorable, can I be accused of taking the post or article out of the lifelong context of the person involved?
I should also report a separate email incident. A person I barely know at all had a typo at the beginning of a substantive post, a typo (the wrong word rather than an obvious error) that stood out just enough to make it harder to focus on the substance of the post. I didn’t say so in a comment (this wasn’t one of the very few bloggers who prides themself on the exquisite and well-edited nature of their posts). I sent a quick email saying “you might want to fix this.” The blogger did. Problem solved. And for several months now I’ve been correcting spelling and obvious syntax problems in posts that I quote (here, at C&I, or in books), without “sic”ing them–unless, again, it’s one of those rare cases where the person is A Superior Writer and makes sure we all know it.
There’s an easy solution, to be sure. Never disagree with anyone about anything. Never say anything that could be considered negative or snarky or even constructive criticism (which is still criticism). “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Heck, I could start a new Blogger’s Code of Conduct, with a badge bearing a smiley face: “We only see the sunny days.”
I would have naively assumed that people who take public roles would consider themselves open to criticism. I would have naively assumed that people who (unlike me) are frequently interviewed would be wary of selective quotation. I would have naively assumed that people would stand behind what they say, understanding that some of us learn over time and have been known to change our minds. Heck, some of us are even wrong once in a while; I certainly am.
Maybe I’m getting less naive. Maybe the rule now is that nobody is responsible for anything they say, directly or indirectly, unless you agree with them. I’d like to think otherwise. But I’m beginning to wonder.
Comments welcome–whether you agree or disagree. I reserve the right to delete obscene or patently abusive comments, especially those that aren’t signed or are off-topic–but “patently abusive” has to do with language, not with agreement. Think I’m a whiney asshat? You’re free to say so.
Addition, February 6: The particular situation mentioned was a fluke, I now believe–but I’ll stand behind much of the rest of the post. The comments so far are great, but I should clarify one thing:
No, I’m not going to follow the shining path of only positive comments, and I’m not going to disappear. I assume that pretty much all of you who I’ve had discussions with over the past two years are open to criticism; many of you have been quite explicit about that (and that you feel free to criticize me, as you should).
So, while you’re certainly free to (encouraged to!) add to this interesting discussion, you don’t need to assure me that it’s OK to disagree with you in public. If I get one odd email a year, I can handle that… And, frankly, I’m always a little surprised by the extent to which many blogs seem to get nothing but 100% “agreeable” comments. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those blogs.