When I was in sixth grade, I got into a school yard disagreement with another sixth grade boy that resulted in a ripped jacket – his. As we were sitting down for family dinner the phone rang, and my father got up to answer it. When he had returned to the table, I noticed his mood had deteriorated appreciably. It seemed the boys parents weren’t pleased with the ripped jacket. I do not recall much of a talking to from my parents (although no doubt there was one). However I do recall having to go the the closet and picking out my best jacket, and the long car ride to deliver restitution. The next day, we played together again in the school yard, although he slightly better dressed than I. This was not, I believe, an unusual way to handle disagreements in that day and age. If you had an issue with someone, you either picked up the phone or knocked on the door, and had an adult discussion. It was a lesson in both accountability and adult behaviour. Techniques have changed with the times.
The internet, social media, email etc… have brought with them a degree of separation between communicating parties. Lost in the convenience, is a level of personal discourse that ought to be the hallmark of what separates humans from other mammals. Whether one chooses to believe that we have come by this ability divinely or evolved into it – we can all agree that humans differ from other species in our ability to communicate, reason and resolve. That we have this ability is undeniable. Whether we choose to use this ability is another matter. A ripped jacket in the playground today, is far more likely to result in an angry email or Facebook posting than it is a phone call or knock on the door. Some may see that as an improvement. Certainly I would have 35 years ago- but I was 11. As an adult, I should know better.
My raising in a sales industry, preconditions me to my view of personal contact. When it comes to discussing anything of a business nature a good rule of thumb is: face to face first, phone call second, email last. (Too often, we invert the order.) My gut tells me, it’s not a bad rule of thumb for personal relationships either. There is a level of communication however that is even lower on the scale of civility – anonymous- and it’s a burgeoning business indeed.
Minor sports organizations value input from their customers (parents) on ways to improve their organization. Commonly, these surveys are now sent out and retrieved electronically using programs specifically designed for the purpose. They are fast, efficient, and above all- anonymous. The writer is free to put forth any opinion or statement they wish, without fear of having to account for their words. In theory, this could be argued as a positive – if all involved were reasonable adults. On the other hand, one could assert that if all involved were reasonable adults, then why the need for anonymity? Having been on both sides of this ledger, and having come out relatively unscathed, I feel that I can venture an opinion without having an axe to grind. The reason discourse begins to fall short of civil, is because we have allowed ourselves to operate in a system free of accountability. Like the schoolyard bully who gets louder and more boastful as he sees he is unopposed – the anonymous poster is full of bravado and wisdom safe in the knowledge they can never be challenged.
Sadly, gone are the days of living by the crede “don’t say anything about someone in their absence that you would not say in their presence”, but it remains a reliable measuring stick with which to guide our words. The need to be anonymity would remain only for charity, and no longer for conversation.