Manners Online

Colm O’Regan is slightly irritated by the rash of chumminess which has infected online communications, especially the false intimacy characteristic of websites such as Facebook with its intrusive, ‘How are you feeling, Colm?’ (see I must confess that, by and large, it doesn’t bother me. Time was when I daresay we all had but a single name and were just Thomasina, Ricarda or Harriet to fellow members of our tribe and grunted and pointed our way through life, without adverting to any of the finer feelings. That, to me, sums up the process of shopping online; so those cheery emails which inform me that ‘Catherine! Your payment was successful!’ leave me quite happy; it’s those that say ‘Ooops! there was a problem with your card!’ that annoy.

There is, however, a whole area of life online where I think manners matter very much indeed: blogs and social media. We reveal a great deal about ourselves by the way in which we interact online. Yes, of course, we all have ‘off’ days or sometimes say things we regret or with a clumsiness we subsequently deplore and are chastened to think that those remarks are there for ever and ever. It is a challenge we have to work at: how to be ourselves, but in a genuinely social way.

Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I defy you to find a single line where Jane Austen ever approves of arrogance or the wit that achieves its effect by wounding others. Today is also the feast of St Thomas Aquinas. It is said of him that, although he was often abstracted and did  not welcome interruptions, he was a true intellectual aristocrat and always answered others with politeness. St Benedict often referred to the need for courtesy in the monastery, seeing it as the outward manifestation of the humility and reverence at the heart. Centuries after Benedict and Aquinas, Chesterton defined courtesy as ‘the wedding of humility with dignity’ and declared that ‘the grace of God is in courtesy’.

I think there is something there for us all to think about, don’t you?


8 thoughts on “Manners Online”

  1. Good manners becometh the Man. Not sure who wrote it, but as a term to bear in mind both online and offline seems to me to be sensible.

    You are quite right. We sometimes have an off-day and write and post things which are ill-judged and later regretted. To my shame I have been guilty of that in the past.

    The shame of it is that offline I’m much more thoughtful and think before I speak – so why has it on occasion deserted me online. Perhaps it’s the ease of writing in haste and posting in haste that’s the issue.

    I think that a winning software would be one that before anything was posted comes up with a warning message saying “DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SAY THAT?”

    It might be a bit ‘nanny state’ but might save lots of blushes later.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. I too have been guilty of sending some ill-judged communications and then again had others which have been taken differently to the way in which I intended. It is hard and quite humbling to be shown them afterwards, and see how others interpreted your words.

      As e-mail comes directly into our personal space it seems to affect us more deeply than an open conversation in person. The nuances of expression and body language cannot be seen; nor the tone of voice heard and as a result the ‘wrong-end-of-the-stick’ can be reached, sometimes with rapidly escalating consequences.

      Given that it is too easy to respond quickly to e-mails, I would be in favour of piloting modified software but, if you don’t mind, would word your warning message slightly differently. I would say:-

      Please think before you send

      Re-read your message and ask yourself does it need to be sent today?

      Could a good night’s sleep maybe give you a different perspective tomorrow?

      My feeling, after some 23 years of working with IT, is that the gentler, more human touch has to come to the fore (even if it takes longer). Short, to-the-point sentences (particularly if written in upper case letters) can come across rudely and aggressively. It is in all our interests to perfect even more the way in which we ‘apply’ our ICT skills, both on-line and in hard copy format, alongside our ever-increasing technical advances.

      Mankind has now created a new forum in which to relate to each other, and it seems here to stay. It is only right that we spend some time reflecting on the manner in which we do that. Being grateful for how far we have come but considering, nonetheless, what still needs to be done.

      Thank you to both of you. I have enjoyed what you had to say this morning.

  2. More often than I would like have my cheeks stung with the heat of embarrassment over something posted in a moment of unknowing delusion to become clearly so only after the send button is pressed. I have made friends with the delete button wherever one is found. Where one is not, I tread lightly. I do ask now the question you offer in block letters, Ernie. And yours, Lorraine.

    Just last night I was thinking/remembering a comment I posted here months ago that was harsh and I think now inconsiderate of the feelings and experiences of others. My cheeks sting still. I learned something about the care and compassion of others we Christians are called to.

    Sometimes I wade in waters too deep, or wax too personal on a matter, miss the point entirely, or am plainly silly. But these sins harm my pride more than the sensitivities of others.

    I’ve learned that it is one thing to hold a position with the passion of belief but how it is expressed is quite another matter. I still don’t always get it right. It’s a journey. I do agree with Chesterton that ‘the Grace of God is in courtesy’.

    Something very worth thinking about.

  3. Important and of course beautifully written post. The one example I can think of makes your point very well. Poor Emma is being unkind to and about Miss Bates at the picnic on Box Hill when Mr Knightley tells her off in no uncertain terms…yes, Miss Bates is a silly woman, but that does not excuse Emma in Jane Austen’s eyes.

  4. I think that the great danger is Twitter. I have a Twitter account simply in order to send an advisory tweet when one or other of us posts something on the blog – and I resolutely do not use it for anything else.

    Quite apart from the fact that I can’t imagine that anyone is remotely interested in what I had for breakfast, it is incredibly easy to send an ill-considered tweet that is not only thoughtless but potentially hurtful to someone out there whom you do not even know exists.

    In short, Twitterdom is not a private space.

  5. Thank you for all your comments. We’ll all give slightly different answers to this question because we’re different people, but I’m encouraged that not one person has thought of commenting on how horrible others are but thought only of his/her own shortcomings.

    I agree with Frank that Twitter is not a private space, but I think it is an impoverishment to use it only for ‘broadcasting purposes’. Sharing and commenting all require discipline, but I find it good for that (and some light-heartedness, too). We have had social media for fewer than ten years: we are still learning.

  6. Having said what I said, I must confess that yesterday I broke my own rule and, in a conversation thread about Ken Clarke, tweeted about his Radio 4 programme on Clifford Brown. (For those of you who’ve never heard of the latter, he was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of my lifetime, up there with Miles Davis and Chet Baker.)

  7. Absolutely. William of Wykeham best encapsulated it, I’ve always thought: ‘Manners makers man’.

    Nothing was so humbling and instructive to me, as a young woman working in an art gallery, than my own rather self-important snappiness being countered by the restrained and gentle courtesy of the elderly man whom I was supposed to be serving. The next day I discovered that he was one of the great peers of the land: a gentleman ‘de jure’ but also, more importantly, in word and deed.

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