One small resolution

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions (and was mildly fond of the “No year’s resolutions” heading in the current Cites & Insights, but sometimes an exception is in order. I actually made this resolution in December, but setting it down may help to remember it:

Don’t attack the person, attack the message (if I must attack at all).

That’s the easy part. The hard part:

When someone demeans me, uses slanderous labels, writes in a generally abusive or belittling manner in order to avoid actual discussion–don’t respond in kind.

Ignore the nonsense if possible. If it happens more than once or twice, ignore the person entirely.

Assuming this is all happening in the world of blogs and lists, one of four things will happen:

1. People will recognize that the other person is being abusive and the other person will be treated appropriately. (Least likely.)

2. The other person will burn out or at least change. Being abusive is its own punishment. Divas (of either set) don’t last long, in general. (Considerably more likely.)

3. Nobody will notice or care, and the other person will continue to thrive and prosper. The answer to which is, “Nobody ever said the world was fair.”

4. I’ll recognize that the other person was right to dismiss my argument, even if wrong to dismiss it through undermining rather than through counter-argument. (Not at all unlikely!)

I’ve used this resolution in most cases in the past, and it’s saved sleepless nights and a fair amount of anger. Making it universal is tougher, but probably worth the necessary restraint. There is a shorter version, more applicable as one passes various decade marks:

“Life’s too short.”

With that, happy new year. We marked our 28th anniversary with the usual brunch (avoiding our house during three hours of a five-hour power outage, our mild version of Northern California’s semi-annual New Year’s Flooding), and I’m looking forward to the new year.

Oh, and Seth, if it wasn’t obvious: That comment was my unlikely-to-be-kept resolution, and I still don’t use emoticons.

8 Responses to “One small resolution”

  1. Daniel says:

    Great advice for all of us! Thanks for posting.

  2. I’m in favor of emoticons! 🙂

    They help avoid misunderstanding. 🙁

    We’re socially allowed to use periods, commas, question marks, exclamation points, colons, semi-colons … all of which were a newfangled innovation at one time.

    Emoticon have a bad reputation since younger (and hence lower-status) people tend to be the most enthusiatic users. But, e.g. that’s true of exclamation points too – note that’s most associated with expressing emotion.

    By the way, I don’t follow your reasoning about don’t respond in kind. “IF someone attacks, THEN [something will happen], THEREFORE don’t repond”?

  3. walt says:


    I have nothing special against emoticons–I just don’t use them.

    I never use more than one exclamation point in a sentence, and preferably never more than one or two in an essay, either.

    My resolution was only for myself, not for anyone else, although it does match up with my own reading of the Universal Guideline (that is, treat other people at least as well as you’d *like* them to treat you).

    The reasoning is:
    IF someone attacks me personally,
    THEN I’ll waste emotional energy in responding with a personal attack and almost certainly not achieve anything worthwhile, THEREFORE life’s too short.

    Doesn’t mean I won’t respond to the argument contained within an attack (if there is one), and doesn’t mean I’ll always do what I just said I should do. (After all, resolutions seem generally made to be broken, one reason I haven’t made any for years.)

    It also certainly doesn’t mean that anyone else should follow my practice! That’s why I used “I” instead of “you.”

    I left one thing out of the commentary:
    In my experience, people who wage this kind of personal attack, diva behavior, stereotyping, belittling, etc. on me will almost certainly be equally dismissive and the like to other people…and eventually it probably will catch up with them. I don’t feel the need to be the instrument of vengeance…

  4. Laura says:

    Your resolution reminds me very much of old camp-counselor training advice: criticize the action, not the child–i.e., “Jane, that was a very jerky thing to do,” rather than, “Jane, you’re a jerk”–however tempting the latter may be.

  5. Ruth Ellen says:

    People laugh at me when I tell my dogs they are exhibiting bad behavior, rather than telling them they are bad dogs. Well, actually, I laugh at myself, too (insert emoticon here).

  6. Elena O'Malley says:

    3…“Nobody ever said the world was fair.”

    I always hold that the world is fair, in the sense that whenever I think it’s being unfair to me and mine, it’s probably just busy being fair to someone else at the moment.

  7. walt says:

    Elena: A truly Gaian evaluation.. I like it!

    Ruth Ellen: I never tell our cats they’re bad cats–they’re excellent cats (well, one of them is–the other is confused as to whether he’s a cat, a dog, or maybe a seal), but they exhibit lots of catlike behavior that is bad by human standards.

  8. Michael says:

    Ruth really does talk that way to her dogs. Worse, she talks that way to my dogs.