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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Throwing a stew

There was a kerfuffle in the comments section of my last journal entry. 

Insensitive and angry words were exchanged (the angry ones being mostly mine)… and now I feel a little guilty.

I feel like the host of a dinner party who silently stews while washing the dinner dishes over having allowed himself to yell at one of his guests... despite the fact that the guest desperately deserved the rough treatment.

This isn’t to say I think I was completely in the wrong! But I can't ignore the fact that on the rare occasions that treppenwitz has been host to inconsiderate behavior, I have always ended up angry with myself for not being big enough to simply ignore the [real or imagined] offense and let the party go on as if nothing had happened.

On the drive home from work yesterday I did a lot of thinking about this and I came up with a couple of important insights which helped calm me down:

One’s blog or journal is a semi-private domain.

It is not a public square or a village piazza where anyone can get up on a soapbox and challenge all within earshot to accept a particular agenda or provide a compelling reason to reject it. 

It is more like a pot-luck dinner party where the host has deliberately left the front door open and the porch light on in lieu of sending out formal invitations. This is an important distinction because the rules governing how one comports him/herself in a public place are quite different than those that hold sway in a semi-private setting.

I can say whatever I want (within reason) in the town square and a passerby is free to respond in kind or ignore me as he/she wishes. However, if I am in somebody’s salon, the rules of etiquette require that I follow the host’s lead on issues of decorum, and be sensitive to others in attendance.

On the two or three occasions when I have ended up feeling as I do now (terrible, guilty…), it has always resulted from someone coming into ‘my salon’ and treating it as if it were a public square.

Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t deliberately provoke your host at a dinner party, don’t come here and walk rough-shod over my (or any of the other guest’s) sensibilities. I have never had a problem with people debating a wide-ranging of issues and opinions here, but I do insist on both civil discourse and intellectual honesty .

Which brings me to the following:

Intellectual dishonesty is defined (in this case by Wikipedia), as:

"…the creation of false impressions or advocacy of false ideas and concepts using rhetoric, logical fallacies, or insufficient or falsified evidence. It often stems from self-deception or a covert agenda, which is expressed through a misuse of various rhetorical devices. The unwary reader may be deceived as a result. It is often very difficult to distinguish whether the intellectual dishonesty is due to conscious dishonesty by somebody or due to unconscious self deception.." [my emphasis added]

We all do this. A lot.

Here’s the deal. In neighborhood barber shops… amongst our closest friends… nestled warmly in the bosom of our cultural, political and/or religious groups… we are all intellectually dishonest. We routinely ‘quote’ from such sources as "I read somewhere…", "A good friend once told me…" and "they say that…", in order to support all sorts of bigoted, wrong-headed ideas and opinions.

We allow ourselves this ‘freedom from scrutiny’ because we are among people who either completely share our opinions or who know us well enough to tolerate our vague internal documentation.

Looking back at the three occasions in 18 months where I have acted badly and had to apologize to my guests, each case was triggered by someone who made a combination of these two blunders:

On the one hand they acted as if they were in a public gathering place where no quarter is asked or given in a lively debate. Yet they also couched their arguments in a manner that indicated they were more accustomed to airing their agenda among like-minded people (i.e. people who not only wouldn't ask them to offer proofs, but who also will routinely let canards and conventional wisdom pass for real scholarship).

There is a delicate trust that has developed amongst the regular commenters here (treppenwitz’s round table). It is clear we come from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, and there is certainly no uniformity of opinion on political, religious or even sexual matters in our little group. Yet it makes me proud beyond words that conservatives, liberals, gays, straights, Christians, Jews, pagans, men, women, (have I missed anyone?), and every imaginable hyphenation of these groups, somehow manage to share their views here without angry words… with a great deal of sensitivity… and occasionally with even a tad of self-deprecating humor.

My younger sister and her husband throw fairly regular ‘Stews’. These are informal gatherings at their home where a steaming cauldron of my brother-in-law’s incredible stew (as well as his impeccable selection of wine and beer) serves as the focal point of the evening.  But the gathering’s raison d'être is really the lively discourse and eclectic mix of people who regularly grace their salon.

That’s the direction in which I would like to see treppenwitz continue.

I’ll serve up a passable pot of stew a few times a week… and you all can feel free to stop by and eat or converse, as you see fit.  All I ask is that everyone please keep in mind that you are in my salon… and that you are mingling amongst people who will politely listen to your (and my) well-considered opinions without necessarily sharing them.

Bon appétit!


Posted by David Bogner on May 5, 2005 | Permalink


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please keep in mind that you are in my salon

Can I get a shave and a haircut? ;) Your point is well-made. People need to remember that every stop in the blogosphere is different.

There are different rules of behavior in each and they should check out the culture before interacting.

Posted by: Jack | May 5, 2005 3:52:16 PM

I think you've done a good job here of expressing your ideal blog atmosphere. I really like the friendly give-and-take that usually appears in your comments area. Some others bloggers seem to relish "no-holds-barred" comments, and I write my more pointed or just nutty stuff there. (And yes, I do mean DovBear!)

Posted by: Mirty | May 5, 2005 4:05:21 PM

I think you've explained the house rules very cogently. It's funny that Mirty posts her nuttiest stuff elsewhere, because I post my nuttiest stuff here. (I know; startled gasps fill the comments section. Me, nutty?) Initially, I kept expecting you to gently smack me back into line, but eventually I figured out you would tolerate me no matter how weird I got as long as (1) I was more-or-less on topic (2) the joke was directed at me, or in a good-natured way at you, not at the other commenters and (3) the intention, whether or not successful, was to entertain, not freak-out, the readers.

I think it's also very important that your brother-in-law throws stews and my brother-in-law is Stu.

I think all of us should have a big group hug now, but I'm still wearing pajamas and haven't showered.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 5, 2005 4:44:53 PM

Good post today and I agree that it's good to get the ground rules out there. You would think that all being adults with common sense, would be enough, but sometimes certain peopl have to be reminded how to behave nicely.

I have to say that I look forward to the comments section almost as much as I do the entries that you post! I like reading the 'regular commenters' Dr Bean & Jack have their own sub-commentary in Treppenwitz' comments section! It's great! "group hug, indeed"!!!! Loved that!

And what's really nice is the way you respond to your commenters... By providing feedback it makes it seem like a pseudo-converation and it's nice.

And not just cuz you're my brother, but because it's very entertaining, Treppenwitz is my favorite MUST READ daily blog! :)

Posted by: val | May 5, 2005 4:57:35 PM

Jack... Sorry about that... here in Israel they call the living room a 'salon'. You probable thought I was opening a 'Supercuts'. :-) As to your last statement... yes, absolutely. I even go so far as to e-mail the author if have any doubt as to how the comment will be received.

Mirty... It's all about trust. If you want to cut loose once in awhile, feel free. I have read enough of your blog and 'gotten to know you' through your writing and your comments here to be able to accept even stronger opinions in the spirit that they are offered. The person with whom I had the little dust-up was new to treppenwitz and also a new blogger (3 or 4 posts under his belt) who lept without looking.

Doctor Bean... As the host of the party, it's not for me to tell the guest with the lampshade on his head that he might regret it in the morning. :-) Of course it didn't hurt your case that from the very beginning there was obviously a thoughtful, reasonable person behind the foolishness. I can put up with a lot of lampshade if a person brings smarts, logic and genuine thoughtfulness to the table.

Val... Do you need to borrow money? :-) Stop being so nice, your freakin' me out!

Anyway, I consider the comments much more than a "pseudo-conversation". This is the real deal! Perhaps even 'more real than real' since it is often easier to open up to a stranger than someone who knows you in real life.

Posted by: David | May 5, 2005 5:16:25 PM


Truth be told I speak my mind almost everywhere. But in my old age I have learned to be wary of the gun slingin', beekeepers of the world. Especially the religious zealots who fearless tread through Turdistan fertilizing the land and autos ;)

And should I forget to hold my tongue I can always blame Old Doc Bean for spiking my Tang. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 5, 2005 6:20:39 PM

I like your analogy! Some of the best times I've had have been around the dinner table with friends (sometimes, even with family :o), good food, a bottle or two or three of wine, and meaningful conversation.

I remember hearing as a kid - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all... I may not agree with that for all times and in all situations, but it does communicate a level of respect for the individual that is, in my opinion, essential to any constructive, meaningful dialog.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | May 5, 2005 7:32:59 PM

Val: Thank you. And, by the way, David pays Jack and me a lot less than you might think. :-)

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 5, 2005 8:58:00 PM

Jack... Probably a wise approach. Those armed beekeepers can be an ornery bunch.

Steve... To take it one step further... when you find yourself around the table with people you have come to know and trust, you can often say the difficult things or disagree on touchy issues. The key is spending enough time at the table to have earned (and lend) that trust. Newcomers to the table should have sense enough to not immediately assume such a level of intimacy. Trolls needn't bother sitting down at the table!

Posted by: David | May 5, 2005 11:49:26 PM

It is interesting isn't it, the way blogs work to form communities?

I always feel a little funny, when I go to a new blog, or comment in one I haven't commented in before, no matter how long I've been reading it. Like I should wait for someone to introduce me, or at least introduce myself before I speak. Mind you, I don't always do it (she hastily adds just in case she didn't introduce herself here!).

I also find that once I do start commenting on a blog - and recieve a response - that I become much more inclined to pop by regularly to see what's happening. Even more so if, like here, there are regular commenters to check in on as well as the blogger himself.

Posted by: Kay | May 6, 2005 7:45:33 AM

And, by the way, David pays Jack and me a lot less than you might think. :-)

I don't want to talk out of turn, but he pays me twice as much as you. It pays to negotiate with Scooter Pies.

Posted by: Jack | May 6, 2005 7:51:55 AM

When will he giive us our ffffffffoto fffffffriday, precioussssss? Master Bogner knowssss we needses it. Musssst havessss it.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 6, 2005 7:52:11 AM


Every site author must make a deeply personal decision about how they will host their site. I appreciate your willingness to take on the difficult duties of a host. It makes for a very interesting conversation. The price you pay for all of us is the difficult duties of a host.

I'm not quite up to the salon host role on my site. And I know that has mostly to do with my impatience with a small minority of guests that bring little insight or respect to the table. It's hard work!

Somehow I knew this early on when I introduced the site in '98 as a campfire where I invited people to join and listen. We are better for having hosts, like you, that help us to get along.

Posted by: christopher | May 6, 2005 8:15:19 AM

Jack: You're kidding! No fair. I'll have to send him some Loof. Thanks for letting me know. I owe you. Say, if working conditions don't improve maybe we shold unionize and strike!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 6, 2005 8:37:28 AM

It is more like a pot-luck dinner party where the host has deliberately left the front door open and the porch light on in lieu of sending out formal invitations.

I think that's a pretty good analogy.

But here's an important difference. At home, with a physical person, you have to confront the offending person to have him or her removed. Here, you can just delete their posts or use your software to ban their ip or username. Knowing that you have all the cards in your hand should reduce your tendency to anger.

Another difference is that physical people in your home are expected to be identifiable. On the internet, people like to jacking in with usernames leaving their alter egoes on their side of the keyboard. They do this so that they can share ideas freely without the limitations of political correctness, rationality and the like. So yeah. Its like opening your door. But you live in a bad neighborhood.

For what its worth, I don't think the offending party deserved the treatment he got. I interpreted what he wrote about middle aged Rambos with a few years of military experience under our belts, along with our pot-bellies, to mean that we are all layered. Outside we are respectable liberal civilized people who can face our parents and the political ethos they represent. But the Rambo, the ninja, the GI Joe (but not the kkk guy) or whatever... He's in there too. Yeah. He's there. It's not that I've read about him in some article and can't remember where. I've seen him- inside of me.

Posted by: Andy | May 6, 2005 4:40:41 PM

Kay... You feel funny because you are a normal, civilized, ewll-mannered person. Those who use their anonymity to run roughshod over all accepted norms and conventions of civility are not bothered by such niceties.

Jack... Yup, it's true... twice as much!

Christopher... It's not so much that I knew what I was getting myself into... or that I am up to the task. It is enjoyable so I continue doing it. The moment it starts being a chore I am so out of here you won't even hear the door slam until I'm just tail lights in the distance. :-)

Doctor Bean... Although I'm management here, you'll find I'm very sympathetic to unions (17 years in Local 802 AFM). :-)

Andy... All fine and good... just so we're clear that you are representing yourself - a sample group of one (just like the rest of us). I would not have been as ruffled by this guy if he had said "I feel..." or "it seems to me..." before any of his statements.

Posted by: David | May 6, 2005 4:52:07 PM

Say, if working conditions don't improve maybe we shold unionize and strike!

I am ready to march on a moments notice. All we need is a good slogan and some signage and we can let management know that we are not going to take these poor conditions any longer.

Posted by: Jack | May 6, 2005 5:48:19 PM

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