A Civility Pledge

Note: although this is posted in my name, in fact it is a collective statement by Steve Evans, Ronan, Ed Snow, Davis Bell, Kaimipono Wenger, Karen Hall, Kris Wright, J. Stapley, Aaron Brown, Elisabeth Calvert Smith, John Hatch, and me.

*****

Just before a mass baptism of the people that he led, Alma explained the baptismal covenant. The ordinance is for those who

are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death (Mosiah 18:8-9).

If these requirements are binding on us “at all times and in all things, and in all places,” then surely they apply to our interactions within the world of the Mormon internet. We have all, at times, failed in our obligation to comfort and bear the burdens of others within our community, and we recommit here to do better.

Accordingly, we pledge:

1) We will always remember that the people we’re talking with are at least as important as the ideas that we’re discussing. Because of the detached interaction typical of online communication, we sometimes find ourselves forgetting that our conversational partners are real people discussing things that are sacred to them. Consequently, we open ourselves to the greater sins of hurtfulness and aggression–behaviors that contradict our commitments as followers of Christ. We now pledge to do our best to avoid these errors in our posts and our comments.

2) We remind ourselves that there is no such thing as victory or defeat in a discussion of gospel themes. Religious discussions may legitimately be described as enlightening or uninteresting, edifying or frustrating, but they can never fruitfully be treated as debates or contests. As Christ has taught us,

there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been (3 Nephi 11:28).

We pledge to replace the attitude of contention and debate with postures of exploration, inquiry, and fellowship.

3) We sometimes define the beliefs and positions of our friends within the Mormon internet for them. This error allows us the illusion of certainty about other people, but it also reinforces unhealthy pride. Exploration of other people’s spiritual perspectives can often be valuable for all involved, but criticism of such intimate ideas is often more damaging than enlightening. We promise that we will strive always to allow others to define their own beliefs and opinions, and also to respect such self-definition.

4) On occasion, we find posts and comments that seem to contain serious errors of fact or of doctrine. In these circumstances, we sometimes respond with belittling public statements of reproof or correction. Such statements can correct error, but they are often hurtful to the people whose errors are corrected. We hereby pledge that, if we must make public statements of correction or rebuke on major issues, we will correct perceived mistakes gracefully and charitably.

5) In the past, our attempts to be funny have sometimes contained more anger and aggression than humor. We value humor as an essential part of any healthy community, but we must not allow humor to excuse unkind behavior. We pledge that we will avoid jokes that hurt more than they entertain. At the same time, we will remember that our online interactions are a hobby and are therefore supposed to be fun. Therefore, we will avoid taking ourselves and our arguments so seriously that we become offended by well-intentioned humor.

By keeping this pledge, we hope to become more civil, more charitable, and more Christ-like in our online interactions. We invite any others who feel inclined to join us in making this pledge to “sign on” to it in the comment section below.

Comments

  1. Yeah, put me down for a pledge. I need it.

  2. Eric John Nielson

  3. Randy B. says:

    Well this ought to narrow down the list of who that damn chihuahua is.

  4. We value humor as an essential part of any healthy community

    Randy, I for one think that SN is an essential part of the bloggernacle. We need to be kept honest through humour. I don’t think this pledge is anti-Snark. There’s a difference between honest satire and nastiness. SN (and most of the nacle) rarely stoops to the latter. This is just a reminder that we shouldn’t. But let the friendly banter continue.

  5. Sign me up.

  6. If I wanted this kind of sensitivity, I’d go to Church.

    :-)

  7. This is nicely put. I wholeheartedly endorse this pledge.

  8. Randy B. says:

    Ronan, I don’t disagree. My comment was meant tongue in cheek. Please insert :>) as appropriate.

  9. I know, Randy. I’m just trying to head-off the inevitable Snark!

  10. John Taber aka "Fratello Giovanni" says:

    If the folks in my Gospel Doctrine class remembered this, I might go a little more often. Put me down for this.

  11. I’m in.

  12. Mark IV says:

    I see John C. and raise him.

    I’m all in.

  13. #

    Well this ought to narrow down the list of who that damn chihuahua is.

    Comment by Randy B. — March 8, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    Ah, but having watched him in practice, any time he has really hurt feelings or caused someone trouble, he has pulled the post.

    I think he is trying very hard to be funny in a good natured way.

  14. This made me smile.

  15. This reminds me of the first two comments that I made at Times and Seasons, both of which were deleted and led to my being banned. There were, within the course of about 3 weeks, two posts at T&S decrying the current level of discourse due to the prevalence of dismissive derogatory comments. I emerged from my protracted lurker phase to make the following comment on both threads under my own full name:

    This thread is a load of crap.

    As luck would have it, this comment was deleted from both threads in fewer than 15 minutes. Months later, I went to make my third comment at T&S, only to find that I’d been banned.

    I was tempted to write the same comment here, but it would have been too much of an inside joke. Besides, this comment is less likely to be deleted.

  16. Si, el “civility pledge” es muy bueno

  17. All your well-intentioned langauge sort of falls flat if you’re willing to grant yourselves a universal Snark exception — that anything’s okay as long as you think it’s funny or as long as you say it behind the Snark veil.

  18. Very well put, and very welcome.

  19. Interesting that Dave got his in comment before mine, making mine ambiguous, especially interesting since he has a point. The danger is that the snark exception will allow anything and everything. The problem is that no agreements to be civil can be reduced to a code. One must always exercise sophrosune

    By the way Dave, I’m not interested in trying to recreate the events that lead to your banning at T&S, a banning that several of us argued against for considerable time, but I don’t recall it being nearly as quick or simple as you do. In spite of that, I agree that the whole business surrounding your now-lifted ban at T&S was a good illustration of how agreements to be civil can go wrong.

  20. Dave (no. 17): do you think that Ronan or anyone on this thread is describing a carte blanche to the Snarker or anyone else? That sounds like a farfetched interpretation, coming from you.

    The line between humor and offense is certainly a subjective one, but the point of the pledge is for each of us to strive to veer away from offense. Thus, the subjectivity becomes an empowering tool of choice, as we desire to be more aware of others and more caring. Is that something you support?

  21. And a third comment. I can’t help myself. If BCC has a civility pledge, do you also have a “12 Step” program for those who fall off of the civility wagon?

  22. Dave #17, I agree that there’s risk in the humor exception. On the other hand, there’s the danger of turning ourselves into Puritans in order to avoid giving offense. I don’t really know how to work out the tension between these ideas. Our pledge therefore doesn’t try to legislate a resolution. Instead, we subscribe to priorities and values; policies are another, and far messier, proposition.

    Jim F., #21, I don’t really believe in 12-step programs. How about a 2-step program: go and, as they say, sin no more…

  23. I’m in!

  24. FmhLisa —

    So you’re saying that you’re one of those “nice” feminists?

  25. I just want to point out to Jim F. (# 19) that he’s conflating two different Daves: There’s me, Dave from DMI, author of comment no. 17, and there’s DKL Dave, author of comment no. 15.

  26. I think I was kicked off of FMH because I didn’t maintain some ineffable standard of decorum there. I guess what I take away from that is that what is a distasteful method of argument to some is just fine to others. I personally don’t know why I’d make a point unless I was going to make it strongly; I don’t come here to treat or be treated by others with kid gloves. But my purpose here is to see varying points of view and propose arguments that either credit or discredit them. My wife, however, thinks that debate/argument should only be used to persuade, and only when absolutely necessary (whereas I argue/debate for the sake of argument/debate). I think a lot of people fall into one of these two poles, and I think that’s why some go away offended, and some scratch their heads wondering why some go away offended.

  27. Dave from DMI: My apologies for the conflation. I should have noticed, but the content was so close that I didn’t.

  28. Civility is good. I pledge to stop being such an insufferable jerk to you all starting today!

  29. I don’t need to make this pledge…such behavior is “essential” to my nature :-P

  30. Mark B. says:

    Steve Evans? I thought he had disappeared from the ‘nacle like smoke in the wind. But, even if he doesn’t post anything, I’ll sleep better knowing he’s on the wagon.

  31. Elisabeth says:

    EmilyS. – you are such a special, sweet spirit!

    With respect to the “snark exemption”, it’s not that hard to tell the difference between a good natured snarky comment from a meanspirited one. There is wide latitude for humor and friendly repartee on the blogs, but we need to be laughing WITH people, not AT them. This Pledge essentially states that we should resist the urge to exploit someone else’s (arguably lame) comment to satisfy our own selfish need to impress or look clever.

  32. Does the appearance of this post have anything to do with the runaway victory of the “I’m smarter than you complex” over at the Giblets?

    I think one important rule that’s easy to define is: no cheep speling flams.

  33. Ghost of John Lennon says:

    #10: “If the folks in my Gospel Doctrine class remembered this, I might go a little more often. Put me down for this.” If the folks in my GD class did a little LESS of this, I would go a little more.

  34. I’ll do my best to honor and obey.

  35. I like that you all have committed publicly to be nice. Heaven knows you guys need to repent.

    I need to get over my aversion to emoticons, I think. Facetiousness isn’t always obvious. So here I go. This is my way of signing on to the pledge.

    Heaven knows you guys need to repent. :-) :-Q~ >:-> +

  36. Aw, man. Half my emoticons didn’t post. :-\’| (that means “sniffles”).

  37. Too many rules. I couldn’t possibly remember to follow them all the time. No way I could sign this thing.

  38. Elisabeth says:

    That’s too bad, danithew. You are one of the people who very much needs to sign this Pledge.

  39. We pledge that we will avoid jokes that hurt more than they entertain.

    I like this one. It requires a balancing test. In utilitarian calculus, if a joke deeply hurts only one person, but mildly entertains hundreds of others, it might pass the test!

  40. Here’s to looking at you BCC. Well done. I’m in.

  41. MikeInWeHo says:

    Two questions for the group that started this string: Why now? Did something in particular happen to prompt this pledge?

  42. Most admirable. I salute you and sign on. I particularly like the last line of #5 for I think we so often take offense when none is intended. In my more rational moments, I try to reconsider potentially offensive remarks with the most inoffensive interpretation or, when the substance is offensive, the most impersonal, (as in an attack on my ideas is not an attack on me) or empathetic interpretation possible. Then I pray others will deal similarly with my inartful and ignorant missives. Preferably with humor. Those of us who aren’t very funny are most appreciative of you who are.

  43. MikeInWeHo, this is the fruits of an ongoing discussion that has been months in the works. I think Karen’s rhetorical post yesterday was the impetus for the particular timing.

  44. A couple millenia ago, while at BYU, a few of us held a “Spencer W. Kimball Film Festival” in our apartments’ parking lot. We showed some BYU-produced classics with the thought of having some fun with the poor production values, scripting, etc. We watched in our lawn chairs and sofas. We were uproarious through the first film, giggled through the second, and were overcome by the Spirit in the third. The danger with handling these doctrines is that they’ll *convert* you, man!

    And now the ‘nacle offers this pledge.

    I’m in — and thanks.

  45. Elisabeth, I was only half joking in my comment above. My main approach to this sort of thing is to think that people should “be themselves” but also be prepared to apologize occasionally if there are errors made or a wrong tone used.

    Having said that … I have found that blogging in general has had a dramatic impact on my desire or willingness to participate in arguments. That is (after experiencing my share of arguments) I have almost no desire to participat in them anymore. There might be a rare cause or reason to respond sharply to someone … but it really is rare.

    I commend the desire to have more Christ-like discussions and approaches to people and discussion as expressed in the post and so many comments. I just have a hard time with a list of rules or policies. That is probably just one of my personality quirks in action.

  46. a random John says:

    Does Prudence also take the pledge?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Meanwhile, RT’s evil twin asks us to play nice and Bob doesn’t understand why people never seem to listen to him in Priesthood. [...]

  2. [...] “I like this one. It requires a balancing test. In utilitarian calculus, if a joke deeply hurts only one person, but mildly entertains hundreds of others, it might pass the test!” [...]

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