Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

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Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby manas » Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:59 am

Hi all

I would like some feedback on something that is important, I feel. DW is a wonderful place for the discussion of the Dhamma, and for interaction and communion amongst Buddhists from around the world. If there is one thing we might be able to do better, it could be in how we deal with the occassional new member who kind of breaks a few unspoken rules of etiquette due to their newness to Dhammic principles etc, and then other members kind of seize upon that (whether they are aware of this or not) and enter into a debate where even though we might be entirely correct (on our side), the result is that the new person kind of disappears after that...I'm including myself here too, in all humility I think we can ALL improve our samma vaca in the sense that sometimes it isn't just the truth that matters, but also the timing, and the manner of it's delivery. I would like to think that we can see beyond the occassional hubris we encounter, like when someone just barges right in and makes pronouncements about things in a way that, in terms of etiquette, seems presumptuous to do (considering how new they are to the Dhamma), to see beyond this irritation and instead see that somehow or other, a being has stumbled upon this forum, a place where to my knowledge the most original form of Buddhism still extant is discussed and practised as far as possible, and what a great good fortune it is, if we have an opportunity to display maybe just a bit more care and patience with lack of etiquette in some newcomers, on the off chance that our patience could result in a change of heart in them, and in them sticking around longer, and who knows maybe them taking up the practice of Dhamma. Please forgive me if I have misconstrued things here, but as I said I'm including myself in the admonishment, I am beginning to think that right speech is one of the trickiest of all the precepts (and limbs of the Path) to master properly.

with much metta and gratitude,

manas.

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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby pilgrim » Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:32 am

I support and agree to what you are saying as I noticed the same.

May I also add that members avoid "smart-alecky" postings, like when someone asks a genuine question and he gets something like "How will this help you end suffering?" Lets be kinder, esp to newbies..
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:16 am

THE PRINCIPLE OF CHARITY
In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.[1] In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available. According to Simon Blackburn[2] "it constrains the interpreter to maximize the truth or rationality in the subject's sayings."

Neil L. Wilson gave the principle its name in 1958–59. Willard Van Orman Quine and Donald Davidson[3] provide other formulations of the principle of charity. Davidson sometimes referred to it as the principle of rational accommodation. He summarized it: We make maximum sense of the words and thoughts of others when we interpret in a way that optimises agreement. The principle may be invoked to make sense of a speaker's utterances when one is unsure of their meaning. In particular, Quine's use of the principle gives it this latter, wide domain.

Since the time of Quine et al., other philosophers[who?] have formulated at least four versions of the principle of charity. These alternatives may conflict with one another, so that charity becomes a matter of taste. The four principles are:

The other uses words in the ordinary way;
The other makes true statements;
The other makes valid arguments;
The other says something interesting.

A related principle is the principle of humanity, which states that we must assume that another speaker's beliefs and desires are connected to each other and to reality in some way, and attribute to him or her "the propositional attitudes one supposes one would have oneself in those circumstances" (Daniel Dennett, "Mid-Term Examination," in The Intentional Stance, p. 343).


In my experience with this forum, sadly, the opposite of this principle is usually the rule.

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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby manas » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:24 am

pilgrim wrote:I support and agree to what you are saying as I noticed the same.

May I also add that members avoid "smart-alecky" postings, like when someone asks a genuine question and he gets something like "How will this help you end suffering?" Lets be kinder, esp to newbies..
Thanks, pilgrim. Yes, we can also afford to be less glib sometimes.

I had better say that we can't expect ourselves to behave *perfectly* every time, either. I am just wondering if any other members have ever noticed the phenomenon I referred to above. Overall, this is a very respectful and supportive place, especially for an Internet Forum. As I said, what I was pointing out might be a further improvement we could make, that's all. Kind of like 'cutting a bit of slack' for a newbie, giving them some room to move. Let's think back to when we were either totally new to Buddhism, or even just young and thought we knew more than we actually did...I recall (from many years back) that certain members of the bhikkhu-sangha were pretty patient with me in my early days, despite some pretty off-track and sometimes plain stupid questions on my part. Their patience and helpfulness despite this, remains as an impression on me even to this day.

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Last edited by manas on Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:27 am

Greetings,

It's good to be having the discussion about what we as individuals can do in this regard, but if anyone has any suggestions on things of a more structural nature (e.g. Terms of Service, Complaints procedure, forum structure and configuration, moderation), feel free to raise those too.

Metta,
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby manas » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:38 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

It's good to be having the discussion about what we as individuals can do in this regard, but if anyone has any suggestions on things of a more structural nature (e.g. Terms of Service, Complaints procedure, forum structure and configuration, moderation), feel free to raise those too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
Retro, I appreciate your offer. I don't think we can actually 'legislate kindness' here any more than any government could in the physical world (not that governments ever deal with such matters!). But maybe we could at least make a point of advising current and / or well established members of the issue I mentioned above, which it seems I am not alone in perceiving.

with metta,
manas.
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:39 am

Greetings manasikara,

manasikara wrote:I don't think we can actually 'legislate kindness' here any more than any government could in the physical world.

Probably not, but we can help facilitate an environment conducive to kindness.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:41 am

I would be glad to give a couple of specific examples. I'm fairly thick skinned so these blatant salvos of crass rudeness didn't affect me much, but if I were a person to whom Internet exchanges meant anything they could have. Here are a few from recent memory:

Once I expressed this very opinion in a thread where people were making fun of videos where people discussed their personal, alternative belief systems. I said something to the effect that as Buddhists, perhaps, while discussing the problems we have intellectually with different spiritual systems might be fine, referring to people as "nutjobs" and "whackos" wasn't particularly compassionate. I was told my opinions were--and I quote--"rubbish."

I once put forth an observation that, in my opinion, people didn't change. My deeper discussion of this would have gone into the idea that people don't stray very far from their basic hardwiring. Except I never got that far. :tongue: Instead everyone who responded (and I do mean everyone) essentially told me I didn't know what I was talking about. Some said I violated the very essence of Buddhism. One fellow said I was psychotic. Nobody cared enough about my experience in this matter--and it is considerable--to ask exactly why I held such a view. This is what I found hilarious: nobody had the curiosity to ask, "Why do you think this?" I will tell you that this phenomenon seems to be isolated on the Internet, which is why I don't take it seriously. At the various Buddhist centers where I've expressed this idea during discussions, the Bhikkus leading the discussion and the other members were very interested to hear what experiences I've had that led me to feel this way. You see, in real life, people actually show interest in each other and care about each other's feelings. But not here. At least not consistently.

I think the reason this occurs is obvious: Ego. Quite a few seem to feel they are the Alpha Dog and they can't learn from anyone else's experience. Personally I'm too old and tired to hang out where there's no fun, so I only drop in ever so often any more. Which is too bad because there are a few people here I like. But rudeness affects me like a bad smell. I go somewhere else where the air is fresher. I suspect from the number of people who stopped posting I'm not alone in this. I hope this is useful and not more of my rubbish. :D

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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Nov 16, 2011 4:22 am

I am not sure that you can legislate for this. Smart Alec responses are all too common, and quite possibly a factor of how long a board has been running or how popular it is.

At first, more committed practitioners join, then others less committed, and a few of the usual trolls join up when they find somewhere worth airing their wrong views.

It may be that once a board reaches a critical mass it descends into anarchy. Is it inevitable? Perhaps not, but its certainly very hard to regulate without being accused of censorship or having a private agenda.
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Ben » Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:58 am

Hi Manasikara,

Thanks for this topic. I have a few thoughts I would like to share.

When we started Dhamma Wheel we wanted to establish a vibrant venue for those with a genuine interest in the Theravada. Hence, the terms of service were framed to maximise the potential for members to discuss the Dhamma in a supportive environment that is safe (or as safe as can be expected) and the expectations of behaviour are defined by the values of friendliness and mutual respect.

We also recognised that the creation of an optimal forum culture can only be achieved in partnership between the admin/mod team and the membership. Hence, again enshrined within the Terms of Service are the expectations of "self-moderation" and the observation that "behaviour breeds behaviour". Someone may not be able to do anyting about someone else behaving badly but one can choose how one responds to the behaviour of another. In a private discussion I was having with Retro, he said on this point:
As far as I see it, whilst we manage the forum through moderation and governance, everyone has the capacity to demonstrate positive leadership here... they can do so through being exemplars of good behaviour, by actively reporting ToS violations before they send topics off-track, by encouraging and supporting others, by patiently helping newbies, voluntarily stepping away from discussions that are going around in circles, volunteering to lead things in the study group or facilitated topics etc.

Further...
If people care about the community, then it is incumbent upon them to do what they can do to support and improve it, just as they would for any flesh-and-blood community

And I think that's a very valid point. As administrators and moderators, there is a limit to what we can do to provide an optimal environment. There is, however, a lot that you can do to not only maximise your own experience - but that of others.

I also think that if more of the membership knew what went on behind the scenes there would be a little more tolerance of the odd smart-alec comment that gets posted. There is a lot of work that goes into maintaining Dhamma Wheel and providing an environment to discuss the Dhamma. As most of our members are aware (either directly or via observation), Dhamma Wheel is actively moderated and is moderated according to our Terms of Service. Posts which are clear breaches of the terms of service are routinely removed from view, delinquently disruptive members are counselled, receive official board warnings, suspended and sometimes banned permanently. We also remove spam advertising and the disruptive influence of online trolls such as Element. On top of that we are trying to keep abreast of all contributions and to make time to contribute ourselves. I don't mention this to beat our own drum but there is a lot of activity behind the scenes.

The other thing I want to say is that sometimes, sometimes, what appears to be a smart-alec comment may actually be a serious question. On an online forum we're at a serious disadvantage in that we don't have access to non-text-communication ques such as body language or vocal intonation to guage whether someone is being intentionally sarcastic or is genuinely seeking to closely examine a difficult point.

So, in closing I would like to ask some questions (and you don't have to post a response):
Would you like to take greater ownership and responsibility for the development of this cyber-community?
If so, what are you going to do to actualize that change?
with Metta

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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:51 pm

Metta-4 wrote:THE PRINCIPLE OF CHARITY
In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.[1] In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available. According to Simon Blackburn[2] "it constrains the interpreter to maximize the truth or rationality in the subject's sayings."

Neil L. Wilson gave the principle its name in 1958–59. Willard Van Orman Quine and Donald Davidson[3] provide other formulations of the principle of charity. Davidson sometimes referred to it as the principle of rational accommodation. He summarized it: We make maximum sense of the words and thoughts of others when we interpret in a way that optimises agreement. The principle may be invoked to make sense of a speaker's utterances when one is unsure of their meaning. In particular, Quine's use of the principle gives it this latter, wide domain.

Since the time of Quine et al., other philosophers[who?] have formulated at least four versions of the principle of charity. These alternatives may conflict with one another, so that charity becomes a matter of taste. The four principles are:

The other uses words in the ordinary way;
The other makes true statements;
The other makes valid arguments;
The other says something interesting.

A related principle is the principle of humanity, which states that we must assume that another speaker's beliefs and desires are connected to each other and to reality in some way, and attribute to him or her "the propositional attitudes one supposes one would have oneself in those circumstances" (Daniel Dennett, "Mid-Term Examination," in The Intentional Stance, p. 343).


In my experience with this forum, sadly, the opposite of this principle is usually the rule.

M4


That's beautiful! Thanks for posting it!
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Jhana4 » Wed Nov 16, 2011 5:36 pm

pilgrim wrote:May I also add that members avoid "smart-alecky" postings, like when someone asks a genuine question and he gets something like "How will this help you end suffering?" Lets be kinder, esp to newbies..


"How will this help you end suffering?" is code for "I think you are being trollish". People use that code because they aren't allowed to say what they think directly in that regard. I've seen both mods and regular users use that phrase. I think that is good given that some of the mods have had a problem with violating the standards they expect of regular users.
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Nov 16, 2011 5:47 pm

Khalil Bodhi wrote:
Metta-4 wrote:THE PRINCIPLE OF CHARITY


That's beautiful! Thanks for posting it!


:thumbsup: I agree, good post, good principle to follow.

As Ben noted, there is a lot that goes behind the scenes too. As posters it is good to follow that principle of charity and as moderators, we do that too. For example, there may be some smart-alec remarks or other comments that remain on the board. And it is because we give people the same benefit of doubt and don't want to become the censor board or give the appearance of one.

For example, posters who use terms like "rubbish" or other personal attacks may have had warnings issued by the moderator staff, it is just that we cannot discuss those specific moderator actions about individual posters.

Sometimes posters make smart-alec remarks or use sarcasm and we give the benefit of doubt in most cases that it might be to make a point or simply to provide some humor.

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:I am not sure that you can legislate for this. Smart Alec responses are all too common, and quite possibly a factor of how long a board has been running or how popular it is.

At first, more committed practitioners join, then others less committed, and a few of the usual trolls join up when they find somewhere worth airing their wrong views.

It may be that once a board reaches a critical mass it descends into anarchy. Is it inevitable? Perhaps not, but its certainly very hard to regulate without being accused of censorship or having a private agenda.


Also, a good post. When a board reaches a certain level of popularity, there is bound to be trolls and others who come just to stir up trouble, to make outlandish statements or claims just to be a troll. And as the saying goes, "don't feed the troll" but in a large active group, there is bound to be some who will take the bait. In such instances some smart-alec posts / rebuke may not that be that out of line. The moderating team gives the benefit of doubt as I say and does not do much censoring, editing, or banning unless absolutely necessary. There is an important balance that must be maintained of keeping it from falling to anarchy and also from being a police-state. And that is the balance that I think the moderating team has done an excellent job of doing. (I actually do very little moderating, the credit goes to the other members of the team.)

In a large and active board there will be the trouble-makers and trolls and we will deal with them as fast as possible. It can be easy to generalize based on a few bad posters or incidents. Feel free to use the report function as needed for posts. But the overall experience here I believe has been very good and very friendly. Online as in real life there are disagreements and debates and arguments, but overall the atmosphere here I believe has been friendly.
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby manas » Wed Nov 16, 2011 6:47 pm

I thank everyone who has replied so far. Ben, thanks for giving an insight into how much goes on 'behind the scenes' already; it sounds like the admin and mods are actually quite busy while online here.

I should point back to my specific concern being more for 'newbies' who come in and seem to lack etiquette, and the kind of reaction this can bring on, sometimes even from members who really should know better, considering how experienced they are on the path of Dhamma. And as I said in the original post, I'm also examining my own lack of patience in this matter. As I said, I would like to think we can swallow a bit of pride and irritation sometimes, for the sake of a higher goal: keeping the best interests of the (new) person before us in the forefront. Yes I know that sometimes the 'challenging' newbies do happen to be trolls or just people from other religions who seek to disrupt things here. But sometimes I sense they might just be curious people...who while lacking etiquette etc, are nevertheless not averse as such, and that from our perspective we should see a window opening here that can close pretty fast, if the experience these 'challenging newbies' have is an unpleasant one.

I hope that made sense...

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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Renlaenderin » Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:07 pm

It is a good oportunity to practice what we preach. I am a newbie, however i am also somewhat experienced in moderation and leadership of online groups and really it just comes down to every member taking the responsibility on themselves to:

  • avoid flippant remarks from themselves. If you notice yourself getting cheesed off by something take a moment to consider why before you blurt out a response
  • Respect the other person - the charity post is a perfect guide to this
  • Do not accept the flippant and cruel remarks of others - this is not to say start a flame war with them, or even fuel one. Delicately and calmly remind all present of what people are here to learn and that there is no necessity for ugliness.
  • Dont be passive aggressive. Don't use the Dhamma as a means of one uping someone. There ARE no stupid questions.
  • Remember you dont have to answer, no one has a red hot poker at your back forcing you.

If the majority, or even a core, of people use these rules most of the time, then a general atmosphere of considered speech is created, and people feel comfortable asking and answering questions.

For what its worth so far I have encountered little of this, and have found the Dhamma Wheel extremely welcoming, peaceful and interesting. The Dhamma Free for All board is a great idea, as it funnels the more heated debate into one area where people can expect for things to get a little more pationate. I like it here.

I wonder how many breaches of ettiquette i have just made. I suppose i will find out soon enough :)
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Re: Let's be more mindful in our dealings with new people

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Jan 06, 2012 5:00 pm

Wonderful thread with many great points. Administrators: Maybe add a link to this thread on the Term of Service?

There are so many considerations. When I first started, I was not only new to talking about dhamma (I previously just listened, read, sat, contemplated) but I was also totally new to online forums. I didn't even know what a troll was a couple months back. There were some moments at the beginning where I expected to be able to say outlandish things and have them interpreted with my best intentions in mind. I quickly realized one has to be careful. Would I have learned that fact without a little suffering of harsh rebuke? Probably not.

Posting is a skill. If somebody is making outlandish claims, being harsh, or otherwise difficult, it should not go unmentioned or else the person has no chance to learn. There are right and wrong ways to point out inconsiderate posts. Of course, silence can be powerful. I was being too hardheaded on a thread and the other person just stopped posting and I realized I was being a jerk. It happens.

It's a balance, there are times I want to never log in again, but I try to focus on refining my rhetoric and understanding of the dhamma. Those are important skills because I would like to be able to explain Buddhism to those I love, but right now I still just avoid the topic for fear of misrepresenting the dhamma or just plain old looking like a fool.
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