Quite a few years ago, a co-worker had moved into a new apartment. Being a very social fellow, he invited his friends over for an informal “open house”. He wanted to celebrate his new living place, and share it with his close friends.
On the appointed evening, we all arrived at his apartment complex. He warmly greeted us at the door, and showed us around the place – it was very nice. He’d prepared nice hors d’oeuvres, and within a few minutes, all were enjoying the food, and having a great time. The mood was very laid back and relaxed, and the conversation friendly.
Then he showed up.
Down The Hill We Go
I knew the late arrival. He was a coworker that the host and I shared workspace with. I was a bit surprised that he’d actually been invited. While he could be a decent enough fellow one-on-one, once in amongst a larger group, he became toxic for some reason.
It started innocently enough. He remarked about the wallpaper in the kitchen being a bit old-looking. Our host replied simply. “Yes, it’s showing some age, but I don’t mind. I like the place. And it’s much better than where I’d lived previously.” He then turned to answer a question from another guest.
But that guy would have none of it.
“You need to contact the landlord. They should change that out. I wouldn’t put up with it.“
The host took a breath. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll contact them next week and see what they say.”
That guy rolled his eyes. “Ha! That’s just like you. Always too nice. You need to put your foot down and tell them to replace it. Period. I don’t know why you would put up with…“
Another guest – also a coworker – intervened. “Dude, chill out. We’re just here to have a relaxed evening.”
Of course, I knew where this was going. I’d seen it a hundred times. That guy had been challenged.
“I don’t even recall asking your opinion about any of this.“
Welcome To The Party
Social media is a bit like a casual party at someone’s house. It’s generally not a random assortment of people, but rather a gathering around a common element, normally with one or more hosts. Regardless of whether it is a Facebook group, an internet forum, or some other electronic gathering place, there is usually something in common that draws people to it.
For those of us who glue and sand and paint pieces of plastic, the common point we all share is a love of the hobby of scale plastic modeling. And though our genres may differ, there is a commonality of experience behind it. And the fact that all of us “at the party” are drawn to the same hobby displays some intersection of thoughts and motivations. Though we are all different people in so many ways, we do share a love of scale modeling. We’re not here to discuss stamp collecting, gardening, or the latest novels.
It’s about the plastic. (Or resin or metal or…. 😉 )
Cue The Michael Jackson Popcorn Meme
Discussion starts simply enough. A member of the online community asks a question, or shows a photo of progress, or maybe even of a finished model. They may ask for feedback, or shared experiences, or a “how do I” type of question.
Observation tells me that most people see it and move on, in term of percentages. Just like at a casual party, a great number of people are content to sit quietly on the couch with a few stuffed mushrooms and some bean dip and chips, and simply watch the party in progress.
Others may give a like, or even offer a simple reply, such as “looks good”, or “I built that kit.” A few may give some helpful critique. “That looks very nice. A bit more of the highlight would really make that one area pop.”
But then, just like the gathering I attended long ago, that guy shows up.
And it’s like throwing a grenade in the room. A grenade that can suck every bit of fun out of our shared affection for creating.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Now, I’m not advocating that every reply needs to be a back slap, thumbs up, and a “way to go.” Obviously that can often be contrived, and even dishonest. Virtually everyone who calls themself “modeler” likes to find ways to improve. Whether it be a new technique, a helpful product, or just simply a pointer or two on craft basics, few are simply in it to stay right where they are at.
So I get that to just scroll by, click the like button, and offer a back slap is not always the way to go. And many people would admit that’s not necessarily what they’re looking for anyway.
But what is so often missing, and I see this over and over, is a very old-fashioned concept. One that is sadly slipping away from society, even in real, face-to-face conversation.
Defining What It Is
The word itself is plain enough, I think. The dictionary definition is easy to understand:
Ci·vil·i·ty (noun) – formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
But I think what is missed are the deeper issues that make up a demeanor that values civility.
First, I believe it starts with humility. Not the groveling kind, of course. Rather, I’m referring to the honest, open process of self-evaluation. A person can make an assessment of their skill level for instance, and conclude that they’re a very good modeler in the overall scheme of things. Humility will acknowledge that there is room for improvement. And it will also recognize that they weren’t always at that level. Most importantly, humility will be open to the idea that there are others farther along the road than we are.
A second factor that is part of civility is graciousness. There are many definitions of grace, and while all are part of what I’m aiming at, I think the best way to relate it to this subject is the notion that grace is something given that is not necessarily deserved. Grace is not dependent on the receiver, but rather it is a reflection on the giver.
A third aspect of civility is kindness. Kindness is not an indication of weakness, but rather a marker of strength. It’s easy to pile in on someone for a perceived wrong. Yet when a person possesses the quality of kindness, the high road is taken. The idea of how you’d like to be treated in a similar situation is utmost in one’s mind.
So Where Does This Take us?
With the idea of civility in mind, I think it would be valuable to examine some practical ways this can be applied in our interactions online. These are not hard and fast, or exclusive, but rather some basic, simple suggestions that, if applied consistently, will be a breath of fresh air for everyone.
I remember as a child, I had the opportunity to show a model of a P-51 Mustang I’d built to a man who’d flown them over the skies of Europe in World War II. The model was the product of 8-year-old Jon. To my young eyes, it looked wonderful. He’d seen the real thing, of course, and had the benefit of years and experience. I’m sure he could have pointed out a thousand things wrong with my model.
Instead, he praised me for caring about the history. He noted that I had placed all the markings very carefully, and I’d done a fine job of selecting colors just like the real thing. He then pointed out a few things I could improve, assuring me that I was capable of doing them.
Being encouraging to your fellow modeler does not have to be disingenuous. The primary theme I try to always keep in mind is that of having fun. If nothing else, encouraging someone to look for the fun in the hobby can be a great boost.
And reverse the thought – would you want to be discouraged by someone? Certainly not!
Every answer can’t be encouraging, of course. Again, I’m not espousing dishonesty. But before you answer someone’s query, look to see where you can be an encourager.
Sometimes encouragement is not always what is asked for, or appropriate. If a fellow modeler shares a difficulty, and asks for possible solutions, answering “I’m sure you’ll find an answer. Great job on that!” is not really of benefit.
However, seeking to be helpful can be of great benefit. It may take the form of a direct answer, addressing the issue with information that will assist with overcoming the obstacle. In other cases, it may be observations or experiences that help form a possible path to the solution. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been incredibly grateful for an answer that started with “I’ve never tried this, but I wonder if…”. The idea thus planted quite often leads to an answer.
Imagine if you saw a friend by the road, changing a flat tire. You stopping and informing the friend that you never liked that brand of tires, and the color of the jack is weird, is decidedly unhelpful. Rolling up your sleeves and offering to wrestle with the lug nuts is most very helpful.
As with the idea of being an encourager, think of the reverse before you answer – if posting the same thing online, is your desire for everyone to be unhelpful? To quote the old Magic 8 Ball toy, “My sources say no.”
This final suggestion may seem a bit counter to the previous two, but I think it has merit. We’ve likely all heard the saying “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’d like to make a case that such a notion applies here.
Before you answer, take a moment to really examine what you plan to say. Is it encouraging? Is it helpful? Does it come from a position of humility, graciousness, and kindness?
It’s possible to be honest, even if the answer might be perceived as not the most pleasant, and still be driven by those qualities.
Yet if you realize that your reply is coming not from a position of civility, but rather out of anger, spite, bitterness, or just simply a gruff, curmudgeonly attitude, may I (politely) suggest the courtesy of silence?
So many times I see remarks that seem more designed to cut down the original poster, or to build up the respondent in a manner driven purely by self-interest. Such remarks do no one any good.
Getting To A Conclusion
The notions discussed here are certainly very broad in scope, and may not cover ever nuance of every group, or the specifics of every question or statement you’ll encounter online. Yet I firmly believe that using the characteristics of the make-up of civility, along with the questions to ask before answering, will provide a “filter” to pass your own thinking through before your fingers dance across the keyboard.
No modeler, of any genre, on any form of social media, sets out to do a “bad job”. Every one of us desires honesty, helpfulness, and common courtesy. I don’t think it’s unfair to say all of us expect that – and rightly so.
And we mustn’t forget what binds us together – a love of this hobby.
Anyone of us, if we’re in a non-modeling setting, can recall a time we discovered a passerby that shared the hobby with us. There’s an excitement, an enthusiasm, that only comes through shared experiences. I’m an old, balding, overweight guy with limited patience, and yet I can light up like an 8 year-old again when I discover that the young millennial next to me in the airport terminal is also a modeler. There I sit, in my khaki pants and knit shirt, with a sensible sweater, and fold up reading glasses. He’s in shredded denim with a death metal t-shirt, a beard as long as my arm, and enough hardware hanging off him to make the security check a nightmare.
Yet passers-by would look at us oddly, because there we sit, enthusiastically laughing and talking and gesturing with our hands in demonstration, drawn together by the love of our craft. (This is a real example, too… not hypothetical.)
I believe our behaviour online should be no different.
Back To The Party
Eventually, that guy became so difficult to deal with, such a disruption to the otherwise enjoyable party, that he was asked to leave. Only after a few tense moments did he finally do so. And even that was such a display of hostility that it sucked the life out of the rest of the evening. The host was left apologizing to everyone present, and though all tried to be kind about it – it wasn’t his fault – I think everyone felt the same way.
It just wasn’t fun anymore.
Honesty in our hobby is welcome. No one would deny that. Yet I think it’s an equally safe assertion to say that no group really wants “that guy” to show up. Such attitudes are discouraging, unhelpful, and reveal some quite awful things about character. And the worst part is they make everyone else’s experience unpleasant, difficult, and for newcomers to the hobby – a reason to go off and try something else.
When you see that post, that photo, that question, and you immediately began to bang out a reply on your keyboard, take a moment to examine yourself first. Is it encouraging? Is it helpful? Most importantly, is it civil?
If so, please do proceed. That builds up the community, helps your fellow modelers, and will probably bring a small degree of joy knowing you helped make it a better place, whatever that place is.
But if you really examine your thoughts, and you pass it through the filters I suggest, and conclude it does not stand up to inspection, I’d like to gently suggest that you scroll on by. And perhaps even take some more time for self-examination.
Because in almost every online blowup, there is one thing in common.