Blogger: Wendy Lawton
I once read that the Age of Gentility ended with the close of WWI. Social historians note that the increasing effect of commerce and commercialism forever changed manners and expectations. I have an extensive collection of bound Godey magazines, Petersons, The Lady’s Book and Grahams— mostly from the Civil War era to the 1870s. It’s fun to thumb through and read the prescriptive advice on how a lady was to comport herself. We laugh at some of the strictures of the day, such as the excerpt from Thornwell’s Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility claiming undue pretensions of learning. “. . . whether your pretensions to learning are well founded or not; the simple fact that you aim to appear learned, that you deal much in allusion to the classics, or the various departments of science, with an evident intention to display your familiarity with them, will be more intolerable than absolute ignorance.”
A writing friend recently voiced her frustration with a lack of online manners. She had posted an innocent informational article on her Facebook page about a trend in the publishing industry. It attracted a number of writers who reacted strongly. The comments became positively vitriolic with two camps developing and plenty of ad hominem attacks peppered in. These were well-known writers in the community and, as she pointed out, the ugliness took place in clear view of their readers.
Social media gurus would hail that as a complete success. Nothing like a little snakiness, controversy and pot-stirring to get the metrics up. But don’t we lose something in the mix?
I believe it is possible to discuss and to disagree with complete gentility. I relish a rousing discussion and we’ve had many here in our blog community but I could count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of times a discussion got ugly here. Why is that? I like to think the age of gentility is alive and well here in our Books & Such blog community.
It’s not so different when commenting on Facebook. I think we need to adhere to a number of unwritten rules:
- We always address ideas without resorting to ad hominem attacks. We don’t have to attack the person offering the opinion.
- We keep in mind that when we take part in a debate sparked by someone’s status update, we’re posting our comments to that persons’ page.
- We’re wordsmiths. We need to use words and ideas that will edify and add to the body of knowledge.
- We understand that Facebook is a public forum. Our posts are read by industry professionals, colleagues, readers, our kids’ friends and probably our childhood Sunday school teacher.
- We are aware that when we comment on other authors, publishers or agents, they most likely have alerts that will bring our comments right into their email. Our frankness may come at a cost.
Remember, there is nothing so appealing as someone who is gentle, even when positing a controversial opinion.
Regardless of the medium, good manners will never go out of style. It was some 2000 years ago that the apostle Paul wrote the following advice to his friends: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
So chime in. Am I as outdated as my old Godey magazines? Do we communicate so differently these days that the etiquette book has been completely rewritten? Can we have a rousing debate and still practice gentility? Give us some examples. I look forward to your take on this.
Has Facebook tolled the final death knell for the Age of Gentility? Click to Tweet
What’s wrong with a rousing, heated discussion on Facebook? Click to Tweet