You’ve probably heard about Miley Cyrus performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday. No need to rehash it.
I find that things like this bring out the worst in people. People, who otherwise will act normal, take to the internet and say things that they’d never say to Cyrus’ face or to a complete stranger. They are outraged and offended by something that doesn’t really impact them in any way. But the internet gives them a voice and so they use it.
My Facebook stream was full of it, as yours probably was, too (if you use Facebook). I had things to do and don’t really have any opinion on Miley Cyrus. If she posts on Twitter that online forums are dead, maybe I’ll need to weigh in. Otherwise? I’d much rather tell you that I thought Drake’s performance was great and get back to work.
For community managers, when these types of things occur, it feels like we have to suspect our community guidelines so that we don’t have to remove too many posts. “Well, you can’t speak like this here… unless you’re talking about Miley Cyrus.” And, of course, it’s not just her. Justin Bieber did this supposedly controversial thing, did he? Well, I guess you can call him any name you want. Who really cares? He is neither human nor a member of our community. Right?
That’s certainly one way to do it and it is the way that many handle these sorts of things. It’s the easy way. It’s the path of least resistance. So it’s understandable and it’s not necessarily wrong. If someone is not a member of our community, then they do not get equal treatment. It makes some sense.
With that in mind, I want more. I look at it differently and I apply the Golden Rule to this. Treat people as you want to be treated. Treat everyone like a human, as you would like a stranger to treat you. This may seem hard, but there is actually a very simple exercise that makes it easy.
Whenever someone says something that may not be OK generally, take out the subject of their sentence and replace it with the name of a member in your community that you like. So, let’s say you have a great member named Susan. Remove the name “Miley Cyrus” and put “Susan” in there. Is it OK for people to talk about Susan like that on your community? If so, then great, it’s OK for Miley Cyrus as well. You are being consistent and, likely, fair.
If it’s not OK and you leave it, that means that your guidelines only apply to certain people. That can have a negative impact.
Your ability to respectfully discuss trivial matters and heated manners says a lot about the culture of your community, one way or the other. And once you set the standard and you put the work in to defend this standard, people know what is expected, and it becomes easier.
Here’s the secret to respectful discussions: the participants and subjects of the discussion are both treated respectfully. That doesn’t mean they aren’t criticized, disliked, disagreed with. It means that it’s not about personally attacking them. And respectful discussion is the secret to productive, meaningful discussion. Some people think that free-for-all discussions are the most honest. Discussions where people can say anything and I mean anything. I don’t believe that to be correct. Those discussions scare people away from having an opinion, they intimidate reasonable people out of existence.
Disrespect hinders productive, meaningful discussion while respect enables it.