Method commenting? November 21, 2013 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Assuming an AskMe poster does not explicitly request that advice or information be delivered in a specific way (e.g. "I need some tough love right now", "explain this to me like I'm five"), what prompts you to respond to an AskMe in a particular way?

I do not believe that it can be isolated to how just certain individuals feel about certain topics - two people can appear to be having the same problem in separate AskMes, and responses will range from "Honey, you really need to just X. You can do it though! Good luck!" to "Fucking do X! Do it right fucking now!!" in each. Obviously no one comments in a vacuum and some topics are going to bring emotions out of people more than others, but is it just that simple? For example, does your manner of response change if the poster is anonymous versus if they are not?
posted by koucha to MetaFilter-Related at 8:43 PM (93 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

There's no easy answer for this, but looking at my own history, I answered most things one way or another often based on how the question made me feel (if angry, then more tough love, if sad, then extra super nice), but generally I try to be as helpful as possible. I don't think anonymous-ness has anything to do with my tone in comments, but I could see how maybe I'm compelled to be more straightforward with them.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:51 PM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only difference "anonymous" makes to me, 99% of the time, is that I will not expect follow-up information.

Most of the time, regardless of the tone of other posters, I will (try to) be somewhere between gentle and matter-of-fact. I don't (think I) do the tough love thing, although "Fucking do X! Do it right fucking now!" is more the sort of thing I suggest if something sounds like a medical emergency.
posted by Jpfed at 8:54 PM on November 21, 2013


I try to tailor my responses based on how much insight the poster shows into his or her own problem and the potential harm (emotional or physical) of the situation.

Someone with lots of insight and a potentially hazardous outcome will probably get a fairly sympathetic but emphatic answer ("Honey, you really need to just X. You can do it though! Good luck!").

Someone with no insight and a potentially hazardous outcome will probably get a fairly tough-love answer ("Fucking do X! Do it right fucking now!!" though I try not to swear at people asking for advice).

Someone with insight in a non-hazardous situation will probably get a fairly straightforward non-emotional answer.

Someone with no insight in a non-hazardous situation will probably get a minorly-eyerolling answer.
posted by jaguar at 9:15 PM on November 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


(There are obviously degrees of insight and hazard, and those will affect my answers, too.)
posted by jaguar at 9:16 PM on November 21, 2013


I wish people would do less of this. You don't really know the person by reading some text they wrote one day. If you have a helpful suggestion, great — then give it straightforwardly. Have a little confidence in the OP's ability to take your idea for whatever it's worth, without you needing to drench it in sweetness or lace it with hostility.

I posted a question about online dating a while ago (under a different account, too long ago to do a MeTa about). I was taken aback by how hostile some of the responses were. They accused me of being too arrogant, and one comment went on at length telling me not to have high self-esteem and to think of myself as just average. That comment — a bizarre, unsuccessful attempt to "neg" me — got dozens of favorites. But the way I wrote the post was not complimentary to myself at all. I literally didn't list a single good quality of mine. I never so much as said "I think I'm reasonably intelligent/attractive/etc." If anything, I was very self-effacing. The only thing I said that made people call me arrogant was that being in NYC, I have effectively endless opportunities for dating through OKCupid. But that's not bragging; that just means I'm in my 30s and employed in a huge city in the age of the internet. That's completely unremarkable and has nothing to do with anything amazing about me. And no one answering the question had any way to know whether I'm average, below-average, or above-average. (I've seen plenty of AskMe posts that aren't self-effacing and do say "I'm attractive, intelligent," etc., without getting responses saying, "No, you're just average.") Notably, I was not asking about how to write an online profile or messages, so it's not like I opened the door for them to critique how my writing made them feel. Oh, and my question wasn't about anything remotely controversial, nor did it invoke any gender stereotypes or anything like that.

After spending years giving thousands of answers on AskMe, it was pretty galling to get such a hostile response to a non-hostile question. Remember, even if someone seems to be new, they could be a long-time commenter who has helped you in the past, using a sock puppet.

My point in saying all this is: sometimes, it seems like people aren't answering to give useful information or advice. They answer simply to vent their feelings about what they perceive the other person to be, based on text. But text isn't a person. It's just text. If the text takes the form of asking for advice, give advice if you have it. If your whole reaction is that you're angry at the person and you have nothing substantive to say, then just don't comment. An over-the-top emotional or harsh response should be reserved for the rare case that demands that kind of thing. For most questions — like, at least 99% of them — there's no reason to let the person know exactly how you feel about them.
posted by John Cohen at 10:23 PM on November 21, 2013 [36 favorites]


sometimes, it seems like people aren't answering to give useful information or advice. They answer simply to vent their feelings about what they perceive the other person to be, based on text.

In my opinion, if you expand it a little this motivation would comprise at least half the answers on askme at any one time. The expansion is people that just love giving their opinions, even on things they really know nothing about.

The ratio would definitely be higher in anonymous questions.

That all said, I don't posting an answer with those motivations necessarily makes for a bad answer. We all mix in these motivations to a greater or lesser degree when answering, and good advice or knowledge can nonetheless shine through.

I try to keep an even tone myself, though obviously factual questions with factual answers can be almost toneless, whereas my own baggage is inescapable in the murky territory of the human heart. If I know someone, my knowledge of them from here definitely can shape my tone.
posted by smoke at 10:37 PM on November 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


They answer simply to vent their feelings about what they perceive the other person to be, based on text.

In my opinion, if you expand it a little this motivation would comprise at least half the answers on askme at any one time.


I’m not sure this isn’t half of MF.
posted by bongo_x at 11:02 PM on November 21, 2013


There's Howard S. Becker has called a writer's persona. Some people are more aware than others that assuming a role when writing is a thing that has to happen, and does happen every time we write. Some have fun manipulating their writing persona and they jump around a little between whatever they write, just for kicks. Others find it better to keep the writing persona close to their real-life persona with all its ups and downs. Others again want to always sound level, or provocative, silly, or anything else, so they hone their style to that effect (why am I thinking of Peter Mayle and the Provence all of a sudden?).
Many are oblivious of the whole thing, and intuitively or randomly pick a writing persona or a selection of personas that suit them or their topic poorly in one way or another. And some question-answerers seem to let the asker steer what answerers' persona they pick: cheerful, helpful, condescending, wordy, curt and so on - the choice is often triggered by the level of penetration an asker shows and how a question is phrased. I think the latter is the answer here.
posted by Namlit at 12:31 AM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes it seems that an answer's tone and content are guided by previous answers. The most noticeable ones are usually relationship-based Asks. If, say after 10-15 answers, someone comes and hits the nail on the head, there is a marked shift in answers after that point. Some will try to amplify the popular point made, some will use it as a measure to react against. It is interesting to see, especially on the more popular Asks. It gives it a community feel, particularly when you see someone succinctly encapsulate what 10 other answers are alluding to. The other noticeable is that if, as an asker, you interject to overbearingly argue down and ignore the mainstream advice you are getting - you're going to have a bad time.
posted by 0 answers at 2:21 AM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


You know, i often find myself thinking that in certain Ask threads, especially some human relations ones, mods should be able to tag the thread so that you get two choices after reading the question.

Forfeit your ability to answer, and read all the responses, Or write a response but only be able to view the other responses after you've posted.

Because seriously, some really tiresome circlejerk bandwagony stuff goes on threads sometimes. Especially the ones that garner over say, 20-30 responses. Sometimes it feels like it's sorta like the whole greater theory of fpp commenting thing where one negative butthead post within the first few can skew an entire thread, but on Ask it's often a totally legitimate response that shouldn't be deleted or anything... but just one that kinda sets the tone for the all the resulting comments. And really, if people couldn't just come right in and see that the entire thread would be better.

The entire formula of "Hey, i have a question about ABC, bla bla bla bla"

1st responder: "Well, you should really consider XYZ since that seems like its what your looking for/is obviously an issue in your situation"

2nd, 3rd: "Yea XYZ bla bla huge derail talking about that".

It's one thing when someone is obviously asking the wrong question, but it can get really irritating when it turns in to a huge derail(which to be fair, gets deleted pretty often) over someone bringing up some completely unrelated and usually really uncharitable assumption about the asker or their question.

sometimes, it seems like people aren't answering to give useful information or advice. They answer simply to vent their feelings about what they perceive the other person to be, based on text.

I'd honestly expand on this and say that i've seen what often reads as "This sounds similar to a situation or person i've encountered, and now i'm going to project all of my feelings about that person/thing/situation onto you or your situation". Basically, that the posters question gets turned in to an avatar for something they've experienced.

There's obviously a fine line between that and just normal advice based on experiences, but sometimes it really feels like people are grinding hobbyhorses about gripes they've had in vaguely similar situations.
posted by emptythought at 3:17 AM on November 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Heh. Add

what

to my last post. Seems like there's a shortage of what around here. Someone clearly nicked mine.
posted by Namlit at 3:19 AM on November 22, 2013


I try to answer questions the same way I'd answer them to friends irl, that is, trying to be supportive and encouraging. I don't think tough love is helpful, generally, as it puts people on the defensive and can lead them to ignore otherwise perfectly good advice. It doesn't matter to me whether the poster is anonymous or not. So it does shock me sometimes to see how harsh people can be, and how judgemental. But then maybe that's just their style of advice to their real friends also? I just try not to say anything that I wouldn't say to someone's face. I don't think it's the anonymity of the asker that leads people to be unnecessarily harsh sometimes, as much as the anonymity of the answerer.

All that said, I love AskMe and I find the vast majority of replies are helpful and considerate. While people obviously love to give advice (myself included!) it does feel like the overwhelming motive is not to project or vent, but to genuinely be there for people who are struggling.
posted by billiebee at 4:01 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The expansion is people that just love giving their opinions, even on things they really know nothing about.

This is true, and sometimes I think about applying the "skip the first 10%" Youtube principle my brother uses. I think sometimes there's an AskMe equivalent of "FIRST!" where people just really want to be a part of something. I think there are generally good intentions here; people love to help and that's awesome, but sometimes the initial comments can be so frustrating/discouraging/uninformed/not having read the question-y that it can be hard to keep slogging through to all the answers in the rest of the thread, even when they are very, very good.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:54 AM on November 22, 2013


I think I tend to be more tough-lovey in askmes where the OP is basically asking the same question every week/month. My solution to this has been to try to stay out of those, since I would not be the only one going "Is this about the same guy you've asked the last six questions about? Maybe you should look at the pattern of your questions here and TOUGH LOVE ADVICE ALL SHOUTY!"
posted by rtha at 5:46 AM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Assuming an AskMe poster does not explicitly request that advice or information be delivered in a specific way (e.g. "I need some tough love right now", "explain this to me like I'm five"), what prompts you to respond to an AskMe in a particular way?

1. The nature of the question
A few questions are more sensitive than others, requiring a more thoughtful or helpful tone, while others are just a quick and casual piece of advice and a rare few need a small dose of humor.

2. My perception of the tone of the question
Sometimes the OP appears as though they're missing the obvious, naive, arrogant or dismissive, so I take a more tough love approach to hopefully get them to see how they could handle things better. This is delicate thing and obviously you don't want to overdo it, so tread carefully here.

3. My life experiences
Kinda obvious, but if someone is asking about something I've experienced and know has a great chance of ending badly, I'll be forceful with the answer. For instance, if a person asks about adding real burn marks to their Star Wars toys on a hot summer day in the middle of field, I feel that they should be aware of a few things.

4. Sometimes the tone of other people who answer
When a lot of people answer with condemnation or judgements, I usually soften my own answer, as piling on rarely tends to help.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 AM on November 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


I've noticed that people who answer a lot of human relationship questions seem to get increasingly stroppy as time goes on.
posted by h00py at 6:46 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I tend to get a lot more direct and verge on hostile -- although I tend to delete everything and walk away if I detect that -- if someone posts what is honestly an incredibly bad idea and with really terrible justification ("it's for my best friend who asked me to do this!") and literally zero thought to follow through. And that happens a lot. People will ask about getting involved in scams and schemes and money laundering and all sorts of quasi-illicit stuff and then say they can't afford any better help than MeFi and next thing you know there's a follow-up question about how this all went south and

AGH

blood pressure
posted by griphus at 6:47 AM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not sure if this is good or bad, but on a lot of questions, I'll read the person's previous post history, and that will inform the nature of my response. There is an argument to be made for "every question should be taken on its own merits!", but if I see that someone has asked essentially the same thing a half-dozen times, I'll be a bit more blunt, because CLEARLY being sweet and supportive and helpful isn't doing the trick.

I'm all about being as self-aware as possible (I think a full 80% of Human Relations AskMes - including mine! - could be answered with "BOTH PARTICIPANTS IN THIS SITUATION NEED MOAR SELF-AWAREZ!"), so if someone post something that doesn't display a whole crap-ton of self-awareness, I will sometimes try to steer them in that direction rather than just answering their inquiry head-on.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Side note: it would be REALLY interesting to install some kinda script that would allow you to block the OP's name UNTIL you'd written a response to the question, to counteract the "oh god, you've asked the same thing for three years in a row, dude" effect. It is sometimes kinda challenging to provide helpful advice when your brain is screaming "Maybe you're experiencing [problem in question] BECAUSE YOU ARE JUST A NATURALLY UNPLEASANT PERSON." Or... possibly I'm just a dick.)
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:56 AM on November 22, 2013


I rarely if ever look at the user name of an asker. I just answer them as best I can as succinctly as I can based on what I read.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:27 AM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


They accused me of being too arrogant, and one comment went on at length telling me not to have high self-esteem and to think of myself as just average.

I think there's often a lot going on on both sides in this sort of thing. If I ask a question and a lot of the answers are telling me a certain thing, even if I think that thing is wrong/stupid/whatever, I usually pay it some heed. Not like "Oh these people are clearly pointing out that I am wrong" but more like "When I express these ideas in this way I get this answer from a random group of people who I am familiar with and who do not know me well" which is a useful data point, no matter what you think the truth value of what they are saying is.

I try to be pretty dispassionate about answers unless I think someone is really willfully ignoring either good advice or the elephant in the room of their own question (or in past questions, I don't always look, sometimes I do). In that case I am dispassionate with some pointed parts of my responses. I try pretty hard to not get all "Your issue has become my URGENT PROBLEM" and start being agitated for other people or with other people in the threads. We have a few people who do that, it's ungreat.

I have a slightly privileged position in that I can delete other answers, so I try to be really careful in moderating threads that I am also commenting in. It's challenging. That said, the things I think about are not much different from Brandon Blatcher.

How is this person feeling - people in a bad place will get an even gentler response from me than people who say "tough love please!"

Is this just about them or is it about other people too - sometimes it's worth noting that the other people involved may have differing perspectives on the whole thing

What else are people saying - often I don't chime in just to say "Me too!" unless I have something else to add. If people are arguing in a thread I try to get people back on track

Is this a problem with an answer or just a set of choices - If people are looking for options, pressuring them to deal with one of them seems like a bad plan, they are not me and they may have other ideas. Offering a "This isn't exactly what you want but I think it might work because of $REASONS" is something I do carefully but I will do it.

Have I been there - I am not a lawyer or a car mechanic but I have dealt with many of both and so talking about my experiences in those situations might be useful to a person. Alternatingly, I am a librarian and a person in a long distance relationship and a person who had an alcoholic parent and so I'll speak with more authority on those topics but try to make it clear which perspective I am coming from.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:00 AM on November 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


If every other person in the thread is all "X - definitely X - couldn't be anything but X", I confess that my brain sees that as a mental speed bump, and it slows me down to carefully consider if there's any facet of "Y" that would be useful to add.

Other than that, I've been told by more than one person on more than one occasion that my writing sounds pretty much like me talking. I guess I don't tend to modulate up or down.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's what I try to do: I try to imagine that the person asking the question is a stranger who is sitting next to me on a bus or in a public place and they have said, "hey, can I ask you a question and bare my soul to you a little bit? Here's what's going on..."

I've been in situations in real life in which strangers have done just that (I give, apparently, an approachable vibe) and in some of those cases I've thought, "this person is dead wrong. No wonder they [got fired | are suddenly single | have drama with their mother | whatever]."

But since I believe that my insight has value, I try to couch it in what terms I believe they will receive. All the truth in the world doesn't do anybody any good if it doesn't stick the landing. So if I say, "you seem like a self-absorbed asshole. Work on not being an asshole and maybe your next girlfriend won't dump you" I probably won't, in fact, have said anything that they can hear and work on, even if I'm totally right and they are a self-absorbed asshole.

Obviously the dynamic of writing is different to that of conversing, so that has to be taken into account -- the more so when a question is posted anonymously -- as well as the fact that Ask is not supposed to be a back-and-forth between any two users even the asker.

But yeah, sometimes people express their tough love a little more openly than I, personally, would do. I don't let it bother me because I know that different people give and receive things differently.

If I think a particular answer is out of line, whether for being cruel or for any other reason, I flag it. And I do my best to move on.
posted by gauche at 9:51 AM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sometimes, especially for anything vaguely technical when you don't get the feeling that the asker is at all technically minded, I'll drop into "explain this to me like I'm five" mode just because I don't want to bury them in jargon. If, in fact, they're working on a post-doc somewhere and just wanted an opinion on what a reasonable spiking level is for their experiment, oh well, I did a lot of typing for no good reason but otherwise, they're just going to glaze over and go to the next comment and I might as well not have bothered.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:13 AM on November 22, 2013


Side note: it would be REALLY interesting to install some kinda script that would allow you to block the OP's name UNTIL you'd written a response to the question, to counteract the "oh god, you've asked the same thing for three years in a row, dude" effect.

I actually think past questions can give some really, really useful insight. If someone is asking the same thing for three years in a row, they probably do need a different answer than the guy asking it for the first time. Maybe not an answer just kvetching about the repetitive questions, but perhaps one asking whether less-obvious factors may be influencing the situation.
posted by randomnity at 10:14 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There have been so many times when access to past question history has meant the difference between the most appropriate answer being "you and your SO should sit down and have a conversation about your wants and desires and really hash this out" and "is this the same guy that set your car on fire?"
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on November 22, 2013 [47 favorites]


My point in saying all this is: sometimes, it seems like people aren't answering to give useful information or advice. They answer simply to vent their feelings about what they perceive the other person to be, based on text. But text isn't a person. It's just text. If the text takes the form of asking for advice, give advice if you have it. If your whole reaction is that you're angry at the person and you have nothing substantive to say, then just don't comment. An over-the-top emotional or harsh response should be reserved for the rare case that demands that kind of thing. For most questions — like, at least 99% of them — there's no reason to let the person know exactly how you feel about them.

What is uniquely interesting to this sort of community experience is that often, the wisdom to respond to relationship advice comes by way of hard fought life experiences. Not only does that provide the life data from which to evaluate and respond, but it provides the motivation to do so in the first place: it comes from a place of informed and deep empathy.

Unfortunately, our experiences often come with emotional baggage. And through an imperfect medium such as written communication where we don't get everything we need to understand the likely intentions, situation, and emotional posture of the author (we don't always get what we need from in-person experiences, either), it's easy to fill in the blanks by projecting data or emotions from our own previous experiences.

I'd bet that a lot of negative responses that we see in AskMes are often instances of people being triggered by their own past experiences as they use them as a template for understanding the question, rather than truly being about tough love. I'm sure that the latter happens pretty often, but that the former happens often, too.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:12 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Fucking do X! Do it right fucking now!!"

Oy, yeah. I've noticed in Asks involving a woman describing an abusive situation that too many Answerers have a tendency to start shouting. All caps, font emphasis, dramatic use of extra line spacing.

It's disturbing. I've hesitated to post a Meta on it, citing specific examples, for concern that it would only trigger more hollering at the Asker.

Sigh.

There's no need to yell to have one's answer heard above all the rest, and there's certainly no need to yell at women who are already in distress, is there?

(I'm specifying "women" here only because those are the Asks I've noticed; perhaps the same happens to men who've posted about abusive domestic situations, and I've simply missed those Asks.)

Inside voices, please?
posted by nacho fries at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think there's a factor at work when someone posts a question about a relationship that - as read by total strangers on the internet - seems to be really obviously a "get out right now" situation, and there's literally nothing any of us can do except be emphatic into the void. We can't call the cops; we can't show up at her house with a car and a bunch of empty boxes and the address for a DV shelter or offer of a couch, etc. It gets especially frustrating when the OP adds details that make it clear that the situation is actually *worse* than was outlined in the original question and the OP can't see it (forest for trees and all that). I think that doesn't make the ALL CAPS GET OUT NOW RUN RUN a *good* thing, especially when more than one or two people in a thread do it, but it's definitely borne of frustration, fear, and for some of us, experience.
posted by rtha at 11:57 AM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I agree, nacho_fries. There's a difference between stressing, "Based on what you've written, you should seriously consider leaving," and "Get the fuck away from this fucker!"

The first is emphatic, sure, but the second sounds like an order.

Also, we have a few answerers, and I don't want to call out anyone specific here, because I feel it is well-intentioned, who answer just about any relationship question with the equivalent of, "Yeah, my SO did this, too. He was an ABUSER. Your guy is an abuser. You are in imminent danger. DTMFA and run!"

Which, if the question details physical assault or obvious emotional abuse, is great advice. But the bar for assuming abuse seems to run very low here, and involves reading a lot into questions that simply isn't there.
posted by misha at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


We can't call the cops; we can't show up at her house with a car and a bunch of empty boxes and the address for a DV shelter or offer of a couch, etc.

Yeah, that and there's the unfortunate knowledge that many, many times, people won't leave relationships like this. If it was in person, it'd be the moment when someone literally takes you by the shoulders and shakes you and yells. It doesn't work IRL either but it's the form taken by the last act of a desperate friend.
posted by griphus at 12:17 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the things that's always struck me about AskMe is that we're willing to infer so much from so little information. This is sometimes problematic in relationship Asks where an OP gives details of only one specific thing a significant other has said or done, and the thread turns into a chorus of DTMFA, as if we can infer from just that one incident everything we need to know about their relationship.

(That advice probably is right a lot of the time, too, and there certainly are situations when you don't need to know anything more than what little information the OP has posted).
posted by MoonOrb at 12:25 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I usually try to have an "oh, hon, we've all been there" sympathetic tone, but for some reason if the question is about creepy ways to reproduce I go into Feminist Warrior Mode and get kind of mean. Um, sorry, mods.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was more projecting going on in that "family-oriented partner" Ask than at a Laserium show.
posted by nacho fries at 1:35 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I answer Human Relations questions almost exclusively. On scale from one to ten, with ten being the most harsh, here is how I usually answer:

10: Person is about to hurt themselves or someone else, and seems to lack the introspection needed to realize it.
This is an all caps, bolded, shouting, situation. If for no other reason than to let the OP know that there are serious consequences for their actions. Fuck inside voices, this person is about to crash and burn and needs to know that it's a real possibility. I usually reserve those answers for situations where someone has indicated abuse.

8: There is a strong undercurrent of prejudice in the question, and the question can't reasonably be answered without addressing the prejudice.
I tend to be more crass/blunt with these. The reason being that many times the OP seems to be looking down on a group of people for reasons that they've been socially indoctrinated to believe, and it's contributing to their problem. Since my answer may invoke a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, I'm much more direct.

6: Person has asked variants on the same question multiple times, has rejected the stated advice, and is continuing to do the same thing over and over again.
Every once in a while you get a poster who keeps asking the same question, and the polite answers just aren’t making an impact. In this case I may be a bit more direct in case the the person is having a hard time seeing past the well wishes.

4: Person is looking for permission to do what will make them happy.

The OP knows what they want or need and is having a hard time pushing themselves to actually do it. They really just need permission from the Greek Chorus, not a lecture.
2: General "getting perspective" question.
These questions are trying to probe the social contract to tease out the magnitude of response that's appropriate for a given situation. Usually, these can be answered almost emotionlessly.

posted by Shouraku at 1:53 PM on November 22, 2013


So, I understand the thinking, but maybe the people who have asked difficult personal questions would rather not have those questions held out as an example of somebody needing to be shouted at, even if I agree with you that they maybe needed a bit of shouting. I know I wouldn't much care for it.

Just my $0.02.
posted by gauche at 2:02 PM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


So, I understand the thinking, but maybe the people who have asked difficult personal questions would rather not have those questions held out as an example of somebody needing to be shouted at, even if I agree with you that they maybe needed a bit of shouting. I know I wouldn't much care for it.

This is actually a good point. Can the mods remove my examples?

Edit, I flagged and contacted them. Should be fixed soon.
posted by Shouraku at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Done!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the few cases in real life where I've dealt with emergency responders and dispatchers, I've been struck by how calm, level, and non-hollering their tone is when talking people through scary situations. Cooler heads prevailing, etc.

And when I've been in real-life crisis situations (nothing abusive, thank Zeus), the voices that got through to me were the quiet, steady ones. I already had so many loud thoughts ricocheting around in my head, adding any more noise to that inner storm would not have been helpful or effective.

But it could be a cultural thing. I got it drilled into me (gently) that yelling is only for situations like fires or someone about to step out into the crosswalk when a car is coming, etc.

I've never been yelled at in anger (Ok, once or twice by some rando on the road raging at me, but that was in passing), or yelled at anyone else in anger, so I don't even know what that would feel like...
posted by nacho fries at 2:12 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It should be mentioned that "this is an all caps, bolded, shouting, situation" is textual. All caps is usually not taken with the same regard as shouting at someone in real life. In posts, the shouting bold text is usually used to draw the OP's attention to the most vital point. This is especially good in threads that are very long, where people tend to only skim the answers.

Aside: use of caps lock does not necessarily indicate that a person shouts at others in real life, or doesn't remain calm under pressure.
posted by Shouraku at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the bar for assuming abuse seems to run very low here, and involves reading a lot into questions that simply isn't there.

I agree, even though I think the answerers are probably just trying to protect people.

When I first joined (it was the reason I joined) I asked an anonymous question. I was trying to figure some very difficult stuff out, but I was at pains (I thought) to say that the person I was talking about was a very good person, though there were a couple of minor issues, and if anyone was at fault it was me. I got a few replies that were "X is abusive" and even when I went back to say that they were most definitely NOT some people didn't seem to accept it. I asked another through a sock puppet account, about the same situation but at a different stage of the process, and got "well X sure seems like an asshole/really dickish" etc. Both times I felt really awful, because I know better and the strangers were wrong, and it wasn't helpful to have someone I cared deeply about being slagged off.

It's really hard to see that stuff, and not in a denial way, but in a "no, you're being mean about someone who has no way to give their side here" even though maybe the person writing it is trying to be supportive to you. I think rushing to label people can cause more upset to the asker, and just gives them another thing to feel crappy about. I just think there are better ways to address things. Even if someone *is* being abused they are likely to love that person (the dynamics of abuse being much more complicated than DTMFA allows for) and I think it's worth bearing that in mind when you frame the advice.
posted by billiebee at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


While I try to avoid them, usually the asshole answers/tough love from me comes from situations where I'm really kinda hollering at my younger self, about to do something stupid.

Outside of that, I try to be as persuasive as possible, because my answer is clearly right, and I want people to agree with that so they follow through on my advice.

The only other time I often feel myself getting shirty, and I usually manage to avoid posting about it, is when the asker is giving not nearly enough information to answer the question. And really, that's often prompted by other answerers making egregious assumptions, so I want the asker to a) add more info, and to 2) not listen to those speculative yappers.
posted by klangklangston at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm really kinda hollering at my younger self, about to do something stupid.

Same here. (And by "younger self," it could be my just-slightly younger self -- say, two weeks in the past.) It's a cool/weird bug/feature of Asks, this time-travel self-therapy aspect of it.
posted by nacho fries at 3:39 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think I tend to be more tough-lovey in askmes where the OP is basically asking the same question every week/month. My solution to this has been to try to stay out of those, since I would not be the only one going "Is this about the same guy you've asked the last six questions about? Maybe you should look at the pattern of your questions here and TOUGH LOVE ADVICE ALL SHOUTY!"

Honestly i think these people need to get paddled because that shit is annoying, and "just walk away from the thread. if it bothers you the problem is you" isn't a productive response. Watching someone just spin their wheels fruitlessly is completely valid, and i also think there's a certain amount of "woe is me" in certain cases of this.

Then again, i was on the "yes YES YES" side of this, so i know my opinion isn't all that universal.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the Green, I don't try to do anything but give straightforward responses.

One type of post asks for things like how to make a cherry pie. There's not much baggage attached to that. I read the replies and get informed. I don't get too many question about my areas of expertise, but I'm willing to share when the opportunity comes up.

Other posts ask questions that don't have any answer. In some cases the questions resonate with me. I give a short sketch that tries to illuminate my experience along that line, in the hope that the asker can infer something useful from it. This is just me, the oldfart, sharing what passes for wisdom in my dotage. In another vein, attempting to reply to some issues helps me to clarify a thing in my own mind. I might just delete my attempted reply in cases like that, and take the revelation for what it's worth.

Many of the things I read on the Green are touching, sad, maybe even heart-rending. I am mindful that when I shut off my computer I will be shut of the issue, but the asker will still be dealing with it.

I have learned that the WTF response is seldom helpful in the Green. Also, snark isn't very useful there. The Green, to me, is more like a face-to-face conversation. The writer's voice can be ambiguous, so I try to be clear about any phrases that can carry emotional content. I save all the little darlings of that stripe for the Blue, and I try to keep their pointy-ends to the front.

Although I sometimes want to write stuff like dtma in italic, upper-case and underlined letters, I try to remember that screaming at someone who's asked an honest question is not a good idea.
posted by mule98J at 3:49 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I sometimes want to write stuff like dtma in italic, upper-case and underlined letters, I try to remember that screaming at someone who's asked an honest question is not a good idea.

It's strange for me to hear that people see bold/caps texts as literal shouting. As in, screaming at someone in real life, instead of a marker to strongly emphasize a point. Is this a common thing that I just didn't know about?
posted by Shouraku at 4:01 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I usually answer relationship questions, so I just try to be kind in my responses. I try to be compassionate and thoughtful and not too pushy. Sometimes I am more receptive to advice when it is delivered gently and reinforces my own agency, so that is what I try to do in my answers.

Reading responses, though - those ass-kicking comments are also often very effective. Both styles have their own pluses and minuses and I appreciate the people who are firm too.

Ultimately, though, I think that threads have their own personalities based on a whole host of factors (users posting history, the way the question is framed, what the problem is, how much detail is included, whether it's anonymous, what the other comments say or don't say, the tone of the other comments, the number of responses, favorites, number of OP responses, mood of poster, time pressure, other threads the poster has recently read, identity of other posters, etc.) so this question is kind of unanswerable. All of these factors may or many not play a role in any given transaction on AskMe. Fun to think about but maybe difficult to operationalize.
posted by sockermom at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2013


It's strange for me to hear that people see bold/caps texts as literal shouting. As in, screaming at someone in real life, instead of a marker to strongly emphasize a point. Is this a common thing that I just didn't know about?

I read it that way, but as someone said, it’s all contextual. Someone literally yelling at you in real life is just someone speaking with more volume and intensity in their voice, why should that upset you? They’re markers that we read to judge intent. When someone emphasizes a point in real conversation they often raise the volume and intensity of their voice, sometimes even shouting. When someone emphasizes a point in writing with ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! it reads like shouting to me.

It’s not underline, it’s not italics, it’s not bold, etc.
posted by bongo_x at 4:12 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter, to my chagrin, teaching me something new everyday.
posted by Shouraku at 4:24 PM on November 22, 2013


Since font styles are under discussion: in contrast to bold/all caps/italics, we have tiny-font with its own set of etiquette issues. It reads to me as someone mumbling under their breath, or lacking the strength of conviction to say the thought "out loud" in normal-size font. Or perhaps an attempt to inject an "all about me-me-me" aside that is borderline derail. It comes across as precious and breathy to me, and I have to work a little extra-hard to give it a fair reading. Just rubs my fur the wrong way, I guess.

I'm curious to hear how other people feel about tiny-font.
posted by nacho fries at 5:04 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious to hear how other people feel about tiny-font.

I personally have never used it, but like caps, it seems to be used differently by different people. The most frequent usage that I've noticed is as an aside or note.
posted by Shouraku at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2013


I usually use it as an aside - it's kind of a parenthetical, but quieter. I just used it in the tornado fpp. Sometimes I use it for snark.
posted by rtha at 5:29 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I try to give the best advice I can, as clearly and concisely as I can. I never understand why strangesr on the Internet answer questions by starting off with "I'm sorry for your...."
Askme questioners aren't looking for hairpats, they're looking for solutions. This isn't Tumblr.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:01 PM on November 22, 2013


But for a lot of people, this is Tumlbr (sans pictures, obviously). I mean, you may not understand why people do it, but you can't really deny that it's something a lot of people do. It does give me a huge feeling of cognitive dissonance to see some people take a very pragmatic approach to answers and others try to do freelance therapy. But both of those things exist and some questions get a lot of one or a lot of the other, and sometimes equal parts both. Threadless forum chat flows in funny and unpredictable ways.
posted by Nomyte at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm curious to hear how other people feel about tiny-font.

Tiny font asides in AskMe seem to often be people thinking that it's okay to add your long not-answering-the-question aside as long as it's really small. This is not the case. And I'm another person who sees all caps as shouting and this is hard for me because I have decent legible handwriting when I do it draftsman style, but that's all caps and even though I know I am not shouting, other people don't know that,
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2013


I don't like either lots of all caps or lots of small caps and I get grumpy when I see them.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this is one of the most interesting and potentially helpful MeTas I've seen. I usually don't answer questions that have a lot of overwhelming social and/or personal problems and yet have a "DON'T SAY THERAPY" directive, because I do think that is exactly like saying "What do I do about my severely bleeding hand DON'T SAY EMERGENCY ROOM" and it doesn't seem worth the energy.

I also find the questions where people write a bunch of crappy things about their partner and then say "he/she is a REALLY great, awesome person and we have a great relationship despite these terrible things" really confusing because I feel like there's some level of denial going on there. I don't think people are essentially good or terrible, but the level of badness some people report in their relationships say to me that the relationship itself can't be so great.

I do think people tend to get one picture of an Asker and then go whole hog at it. I had one question I asked (five years ago now) about how to cut down on unintended errors at work (that I indicated were driven by stress), but I was really worked up about it, so I wrote the question really hastily with some typos. People jumped on the typos, told me I didn't understand grammar, and that was the crux of my work problem, and that I needed to consult the Chicago Manual of Style. It was horrible.

I looked at the question a few hours later and realized I was having a totally outsized reaction to what was really a minor problem, and it was part of what pushed me into therapy. A small part, but I don't thank many of the people who answered that question, who were unnecessarily mean because they saw typos in my question.
posted by sweetkid at 9:46 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I try to remember that there aren't stupid questions, particularly on a site where there's a limit to how many questions you can ask.

Plus if people are sad already I try not to add to that.
posted by spunweb at 10:18 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I must confess to a pet peeve regarding some AskMe questions and unacknowledged answers. When someone asks a question and receives a number of thoughtful, possibly helpful or even wildly unhelpful answers, some form of response, however brief, whether it's "thanks" or "sorry but I think you're all idiots" should be regarded as a common courtesy on the part of the OP, with the exception, of course, when extenuating circumstances may apply.
posted by islander at 12:25 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also it might be helpful to people in this thread, but I had a comment in a related thread which I think can be helpful to people when writing their question: Common question failure modes. A lot of people only ask a question every so often and may or may not do close readings on other people's questions and answers. We-as-mods read most of the questions, particularly the ones going badly, and have a sort of sixth sense about what is likely to cause problems and what is not. A lot of these are normal and understandable things that people do, but especially for relationship questions (or parenting, or other situations in which someone might be really stressed about the issue they're discussing) being able to ask your question in a way likely to elicit good, helpful answers is sort of part of the social compact here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of the things that's always struck me about AskMe is that we're willing to infer so much from so little information. This is sometimes problematic in relationship Asks where an OP gives details of only one specific thing a significant other has said or done, and the thread turns into a chorus of DTMFA, as if we can infer from just that one incident everything we need to know about their relationship.

Yes, very well put. I've thought about this myself as it relates to my own marriage. There are a handful of incidents from the decade-plus I've been with my wife where I am absolutely positive had I framed any of these specific events in the form of an AskMe question I would have received a chorus of DTMFA and "RUN!" advice (and, in fairness, vice versa if she had been the asker).

I can't help but suspect there is a variation of "Internet Tough Guy" syndrome going on in answers of this sort. The relationship advice they give in AskMe allows people to vicariously be the blunt, tough-talking, no compromising, dont-take-any-shit-from-anyone person they fantasize themselves to be. Which is probably good if the goal is running up your favorite counts, but rarely great as workable relationship advice.
posted by The Gooch at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Which, if the question details physical assault or obvious emotional abuse, is great advice. But the bar for assuming abuse seems to run very low here, and involves reading a lot into questions that simply isn't there.

What often concerns me is that we don't know the entire story, and it could be that leaving a relationship is required, but we are too many steps removed to provide a definitive answer. With only one side of the story being shared (and especially when shared anonymously), unless there are clear depictions of abuse, the answer should rarely be to dump someone before someone closer to the actual situation, and ideally with some professional experience, can weigh in. That strikes me as being irresponsible to suggest otherwise more often than not. I'm also surprised at times at how divorce is aggressively pressed on a party that is leaning in that direction anyway and is probably looking more for an echo-chamber to affirm their inclinations than looking for solid advice.

At the end of the day, though, I view these situations like I do doctor and lawyer questions: more responsibility lands with the asker than the answerer to sift through advice and to determine what applies to their situation than not. Perhaps this simply reflects my disappointment in the community to sometimes provide definitive and life changing advice on insufficient information. I'm not sure that kind of thing is avoidable, though, when a community gets sufficiently large.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:12 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread has been focused on the significance of tone in a single response. But what I think is also interesting is how tone functions in a series of answers within a thread. No one answer is ever read alone. Instead, they are read in a series, one after another. A shouty answer right after five others reads differently than a shouty answer after five calm and quiet ones.

I think, in questions about serous issues where someone stands to be hurt, there is probably some specific mixture of calm and shouty answers that stands the best chance of reaching the asker. What is the right mixture? Who knows... But there is one.

When I answer sensitive questions, I try to keep this in mind. If there have been a lot of vehement and forceful answers, I try to play "good cop" and offer a quiet voice of reason. If there have been a lot of quiet answers, I don't try to play "bad cop" but I do sometimes take on a more forceful tone.
posted by meese at 8:42 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I rarely, I think, put on a particular voice but then I don't spend much time in relationshipMe where it seems more common. I will at times get all strident when I feel someone is in physical danger danger either from what they've written in their question or because of previous answers. But strident for me is maybe a couple of capitalized words, an exclamation mark and previously a single blinking word so not very shouty.

Shouraku: "It should be mentioned that "this is an all caps, bolded, shouting, situation" is textual. All caps is usually not taken with the same regard as shouting at someone in real life. "

Shouraku: "Is this a common thing that I just didn't know about?"

All caps = shouting for real for me. Well that and as a noob signaller. I've been at this computer communicating for a very long time and it's something I don't even actively think about it just is.

The Gooch: "The relationship advice they give in AskMe allows people to vicariously be the blunt, tough-talking, no compromising, dont-take-any-shit-from-anyone person they fantasize themselves to be."

Also some people are like that IRL so it's not a surprise they'd be like that in online. I'm thinking about a particular non-metafite I know who is totally unable to find compromise and who lives a life of constant frustration because no one viewpoint exactly lines up with theirs so they always are in conflict. Often it's easy to apply a militant-foo label to them where foo is what ever they are least compromising about. EG: Militant prolifer or militant-gun owner or militant-knitter.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2013


>Which, if the question details physical assault or obvious emotional abuse, is great advice. But the bar for assuming abuse seems to run very low here, and involves reading a lot into questions that simply isn't there.

>>unless there are clear depictions of abuse, the answer should rarely be to dump someone before someone closer to the actual situation, and ideally with some professional experience, can weigh in. That strikes me as being irresponsible to suggest otherwise more often than not.


The thing is, one in every four women (pdf) in the US will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Abuse is not really that rare.

In addition, couple's counseling can be dangerous for the victim in an abusive relationship. "Couples’ counseling is generally not appropriate when violence is present in a relationship, in particular chronic or severe violence, and certainly when the violent partner does not fully understand the unacceptable nature of their behavior. The safety of the therapy session encourages open communication, but such communication can be dangerous in a violent relationship and subject the recipient to more violence."

So a lot of the "Get yourself safe, NOW" comments may be reacting more negatively to well-meaning suggestions that minimize the prevalence of abuse or that suggest the victim put themselves in a more dangerous situation by talking to a therapist about it in front of the (potentially) abusive partner.

If people want to suggest therapy in these cases, great, but the responsible thing to do is to suggest individual therapy, not couple's therapy.
posted by jaguar at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Tiny fonts: I see them as humorous asides. Not all humor is effective, but sometimes I appreciate the attempt. Other times I see they seem to mean (something along the lines of) the writer wanting to take the edge off what may appear to be arrogance in the main body of his post. They are a sort of written version of body language or voice tone.

Reading the sum of the responses: I hadn't thought about that, but, yeah, a string of replies often affects the way I think about a question. I confess that I don't always read the entire list...sometimes, after a hundred or so replies, my eyeballs begin to bounce, and I have to go back to the top of the page to figure out WTF's going on. Anyhow, it's not rare for the aggregate wisdom of the MeFi community to surpass the OPs question: the responses sometimes take on a life of their own.

Also, I read the post of certain contributors more carefully than others, because their handles are familiar to me. However, when some sparkly post catches my eye I notice the handle, and then hit their info link, mostly because I'm curious about their location. I like the international aspect of MeFi. Now and then the info on their link catches my interest because, well, some of youse guys are really interesting people. I guess I like the tangential communal resonance offered--by the responders as well as the askers. Putting a person behind the handle makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
posted by mule98J at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I think about my tone, it's mostly to worry that I'm being abrasive. My goal in answering is to be thoughtful and practical, but sometimes it feels like my tone slips from matter-of-fact to bossy. The way I try to take the edge off is to give more explanation about why I'm answering how I am (for example, what did I experience that taught me about [foo]?). If I don't give explanations, it feels too "because I said so!" to me, which feels disrespectful/unhelpful.

There are a lot of questions that I'll answer one way, but then see that I'm going off on a tangent or am getting too bossy or pontificating rather than giving practical advice, and I'll just delete what I've written and start again. If I feel like the only sufficient explanation would be too personal or too much of a derail, then I'll just not answer the question, even if I think I "know" the answer. A lot of tabs get closed that way!

My tone changes based on how much or what kind of explanation I have to give for my answer, more than it does based on the Asker's tone or even the type of question they're asking.

In terms of getting shouty:
A lot (probably too many) of my answers recount some elaborate procedure for how I think something can/should be done, and I tend to be most shouty in those, in the spots where I know there's an obvious shortcut (but it's a bad idea! don't take the shortcut!).

In relationshipfilter questions I tend to get more curt and blunt than shouty, but again, that's usually in places where I think the Asker is trying out a shortcut (or tell himself a lie) that I know from experience is ill-advised. I'm usually curt not because I'm feeling negatively about the Asker, but because I feel there's less wiggle room when trying to be practical and keeping the focus on the Asker in intensely personal questions like that, so I edit myself more in those.
posted by rue72 at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2013


But what I think is also interesting is how tone functions in a series of answers within a thread. No one answer is ever read alone.

That is such a good point.

It's interesting too how the first answer can colour the tone of the subsequent ones, and how there can be a knock-on effect when one answer states facts not in evidence -- puts words in the Asker's mouth -- and subsequent answers pick up on those non-facts and echo them. I would find that intensely frustrating as an Asker.

Maybe "first responders" should have an extra duty of care not to be inflammatory, similar to how it is on the Blue, where (as I understand it) it's poor form as the first responder to snarl and shit on the post right out of the gate. It has a chilling (or overheating) effect on the rest of the thread.
posted by nacho fries at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Volume alone cannot tell you if someone is raging, terrified, or enthusiastic. Same deak with caps and fonts. Context matters.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:43 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing I try to do is boil long questions down to their core. When people are spinning emotionally they add a ton of detail since it's hard to figure out what's important, what's redundant and what's trivia. Often I end up saying things that sound like, "Your core problem is x and your options are y and z."

Because I'm boiling it down a lot I try really hard to not have an abrasive tone, just as matter of fact as possible. If there's any snark or sarcasm, then the value is totally lost because the asker thinks I'm just being dismissive when I just want to help the asker narrow in on the core issue.

Tone is huge. If I get it wrong, then I'd like feedback on it.
posted by 26.2 at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure I've failed at times, but I try to answer politely and respectfully or not at all. Besides the fact of common human decency, "tough love" as a way of helping someone is bullshit, especially via the internet to someone you've never met. If you phrase it as "You idiot- do this!!" or "How dare you??" there is no chance of actually helping the person. It's impossible to listen to advice when it comes as an attack.

For myself, I've been concern-trolled numerous times in Ask- for some reason questions about filmmaking really bring out the "YOU CANT POSSIBLY THAT WILL NEVER WORK I'M JUST TRYING TO HELP YOU REALIZE WHAT A MEANINGLESS PEON YOU ARE" brigade. (Actually I kind of know the reason- this kind of baggage exists around filmmaking in the real world too.)

It sucks to ask a question in a community you feel a part of, and then cringe at refreshing the page because you know at least one person will have said something really really insulting or condescending, or told me in so many words that my lifelong dream is stupid and I should probably just quit.

So I try really hard to think about how other people will feel when they refresh the page and see the answers they've gotten.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:26 PM on November 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


After thinking about this for a day, I can say that 95% of the AskMefi questions that I personally have seen can be answered with the most empathetic and calm tone possible. However, I think that it's also worth mentioning that there is a non-negligible amount of outliers.

Without revealing too many identifying details: soon after I joined Mefi, there was a question from a poster who was at his brother's house with his children. His brother got drunk and punched him. He posted, asking if he should leave the house, as he and his wife were scared for their children. Another question of note was from a woman whose husband grabbed her and threw her onto a park bench and then proceeded to scream and berate her. She wanted to know if this was okay and if she was overreacting by being scared.

In both cases, I had no moral problem with saying something to the effect of: this situation is really dangerous, and you need to leave or get help right now! Because, you know, they really did.

Now, do Mefi's overreact to non-serious situations? Sure. Mefi is comprised of people, and people can be prone to overreaction and mob hysteria. None the less, I do thinks it's a bit overly romantic to claim that there's no value to abrasive, bolded, possibly caps locked, "get out now" answers. Sometimes people really do need to get out now*.

*Not to say that commenters shouldn't still post calm, rational, in depth answers to such questions. I mean only to say that firm statements still have their place.
posted by Shouraku at 6:55 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shouraku, I'm not entirely sure why, but for me something in bold means firm, and something in caps means SHOUTING. So it's not saying that no one can ever give firm advice, but that personally I would react better to you need to get out, than YOU NEED TO GET OUT. So stylistically maybe it's a good distinction to make.

This is definitely an interesting conversation. I think it's a pity that lots of people who reply often on AskMe don't seem to come to MetaTalk much.
posted by billiebee at 7:04 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


billiebee, yeah, that's why I said "possibly caps locked" this time. To account for people who actually do want to shout (you never know).

It may be worth mentioning that I'm rather young, so the form and usage of text styling that I'm exposed to could be very different from what people who have been on the internet since its conception are accustom to seeing. Not that either is right or wrong, just that caps=shouting may, or may not, be something that has been around for a while, and was subsequently overused to the point where a younger person may not recognize the power that it was originally intended to convey.*

*or maybe I just didn't know that. Learn something new every day.
posted by Shouraku at 7:19 PM on November 23, 2013


It sucks to ask a question in a community you feel a part of, and then cringe at refreshing the page because you know at least one person will have said something really really insulting or condescending, or told me in so many words that my lifelong dream is stupid and I should probably just quit.

+1 to this. Just this month I asked a question about helping me understand the pros and cons of a farm property to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine, and I got a number of comments (some more tactfully worded than others) about how I should forget buying a farm because I'd never be able to hack it.

I think it's important to ask a question once in a while, even if you typically only answer, so you can experience what it's like to be the asker. It makes me feel vulnerable every time I do it - the stakes seem higher in a community where people actually do know you, even though it's an internet community - but it's humbling and helps me catch when I'm veering too far into tough love/inappropriate answer territory.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:38 PM on November 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


I got a pretty clear demo of AskMeta's shortcomings, basically starting with the first question I ever posted. I even posted a meta-complaint a couple of years ago. Basically, there are three kinds of questions I see myself asking:

1) Really mundane questions. "I need some sticky strips to stick a soap dish in the shower." MeFi is great at this, but so is Amazon.
2) Open-ended questions that have one obvious, but unsatisfying answer, and I'm hoping someone can make an unobvious suggestion. This usually ends up with people repeatedly posting the obvious answer and asking with increasing stridency why I don't want the obvious answer.
3) Open-ended questions that no one on MeFi can really answer because it's really hard to give all the necessary details and no one would read the whole thing anyway.

So for me, posting a question means that I'm either too lazy to look for sticky strips on Amazon or I'm feeling masochistic.
posted by Nomyte at 10:35 PM on November 23, 2013


I think it's important to ask a question once in a while, even if you typically only answer, so you can experience what it's like to be the asker.

Amen, times a billion. There's nothing like getting a dose of your own askme medicine on a topic you are emotionally somewhat tender about. I've only done it once, anonymously, and I doubt I'd do it again, to be frank, and it's always at the front of my mind when I answer anon questions.

Certainly, I got some assume-I'm-a--human-being-that-actually-thinks answers, that gave me a level of comfort and information I was looking for. But the answers that made terrible assumptions about me as a human being - and let me know in no uncertain terms that the writer thought I was an idiot, and a cruel one at that - really outweighed the good, in terms of emotional impact, for me.

There seems to sometimes be a nexus between tone and level-of-expertise/experience in the subject, I've also found. The harsher the former, the less of the latter sometimes.
posted by smoke at 12:04 AM on November 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


You posted this thread awhile back. Thanks.
posted by Nomyte at 1:14 AM on November 24, 2013


Hmm, reading over my own responses I seem to reply mostly with neutral tales of caution. "I was in this situation, and I took XYZ route and here's how it did or didn't work out..."

Interesting.
posted by Autumn at 2:51 AM on November 24, 2013


I think it's important to ask a question once in a while, even if you typically only answer, so you can experience what it's like to be the asker.

Agreed. We have an "eat your own dog food" policy as mods where we try to use all of the tools we are helping other people to use just to see if the way they work in practice is the same as we hope they will work. One of the main reasons the edit window (finally) came into existence is because we got a lot of utility from being able to edit our own comments.

I got a number of comments (some more tactfully worded than others) about how I should forget buying a farm because I'd never be able to hack it.

I totally understand your frustration with how that question went. At the same time if part of your question literally is "Am I being a fool for considering this?" it has to be in bounds for one of the possible answers to be "Yes."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:00 AM on November 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I happen to have an example where I answered the same question twice, first with Tough Love and then with Brotherly Compassion.

I answered with Tough Love and Directness at first because, well, the OP was getting a bunch of answers that missed the elephant in the room. I also sensed that the OP was sugar-coating his progress, not just in the question, but to himself. I read him as flailing in his workout programming due to a pressured ego. When I've been in similar situations, I've found a kick in the ass was just what I needed. That's why my answer was fairly confrontational. I think that the goal of many answers that use the Direct, Tough Love style is to challenge the OP to confront their situation clearly.

Half an hour later, I reread the question. Having rid myself of the need to bring up the technical issues with the OP's approach, I noticed a profound melancholy to the post that I had missed before. I now saw the "sadness" and "discouraged" tags, and saw new meaning in phrases like "I'm completely sick", "I just want to feel confident", and, oof, "Should I just eat ice cream until I die?" I realized that while the OP framed the question as a technical one, in fact the real question was motivational in nature. I felt pretty bad about my accurate-but-misfired original answer, so I tried to write a supportive one. I hope that Anonymous read the second answer.

So I guess the take-home message is to read carefully before answering? Calling for "more empathy" doesn't help, because Tough Love itself often stems from empathy and similar personal experiences.
posted by daveliepmann at 7:08 AM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mostly answer when a quick gander at their posting history indicates they are not totally stupid and the time spent to write an answer would not be a total waste of time.
posted by rr at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2013


At the same time if part of your question literally is "Am I being a fool for considering this?" it has to be in bounds for one of the possible answers to be "Yes."

I asked if I was being a fool to consider buying a 1970s era home that needs major renovations, not whether I was a fool to consider a farm in general. I understand why people were tempted to suggest that I wouldn't enjoy farming, that I had no idea what I was getting into, that I hadn't planned or researched enough to even purchase a property on which a farm could be possible, much less take steps to actually create a farm on said property. Such answers probably didn't even seem like "tough love" to the people that wrote them, probably they just thought they were being realistic and sensible.

"Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams" seems a good philosophy for answering in these contexts.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:56 PM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams" seems a good philosophy for answering in these contexts.

I'm the adult kid of a woman doctor and can say with confidence that there's no way my mom would have had time for the upkeep of the property your question was about. It wasn't bad or unthoughtful advice. Pretty realistic.
posted by sweetkid at 7:28 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the things that's always struck me about AskMe is that we're willing to infer so much from so little information. This is sometimes problematic in relationship Asks where an OP gives details of only one specific thing a significant other has said or done, and the thread turns into a chorus of DTMFA, as if we can infer from just that one incident everything we need to know about their relationship.

I don't entirely disagree, but on the flip side I try to respect the questioner - they chose to ask for input and this is the amount of information they chose to provide - and I think that PARTICULARLY in a relationship type question that it's highly significant what information they chose to provide. Now, that reflects my belief that, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, perception is often more important than absolute fact - you may disagree.

So that plays into how I answer a question, as well as my read of "what is the goal here?" A straightforward question pretty much sets its own goal, but sometimes - particularly, again, with relationship/interpersonal questions - there's a setup that's so explicit and detailed that it states, along with the question, a set of assumptions and accompanying goals. I saw someone not long ago criticize (fairly, IMHO) the AskMe prevalence of the "just have an open relationship" answer without an accompanying recognition that most folks can't hack that. I think a good answer doesn't ignore when a questioner makes it clear from their other content that there's certain answers they just won't be able to take.

Sometimes they need to be told they should do that anyway and get a little hand-holding/goading/supporting evidence. Sometimes there's no point in answering or giving certain kinds of advice because there's no way they're going to take it. The best answer isn't the most right, it's the most useful.
posted by phearlez at 7:41 PM on November 24, 2013


I'm the adult kid of a woman doctor and can say with confidence that there's no way my mom would have had time for the upkeep of the property your question was about. It wasn't bad or unthoughtful advice. Pretty realistic.

Come now, there's a thousand types of doctor and doctoring, and there's thousands of types of homestead/farm. That kind of liberal extrapolation is not uncommon on the site but can be reductive, I think.

I thought that question was interesting in that the responses from people who have lived/worked in properties was more detailed, and focused on answering the question, than other responses.
posted by smoke at 7:52 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It wasn't bad or unthoughtful advice. Pretty realistic.

I'm pretty sure the asker of the question is the final authority on whether the answers are acceptable. That's pretty much the definition of "acceptable," since it's the asker who is doing the actual accepting. If you are answering questions, you are trying to help actual people, not proving a point. There is no such thing as "a well-answered question" floating aloft in the ether.
posted by Nomyte at 7:56 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought that question was interesting in that the responses from people who have lived/worked in properties was more detailed, and focused on answering the question, than other responses.

agreed.
posted by sweetkid at 8:12 PM on November 24, 2013


Come now, there's a thousand types of doctor and doctoring, and there's thousands of types of homestead/farm. That kind of liberal extrapolation is not uncommon on the site but can be reductive, I think.

Yes, this is correct, and I feel like that's exactly the sort of (negative) extrapolation that this MeTa is discussing/addressing.

In my job, three 8 hour shifts per week is considered "full time". I work full time right now but intend to go to part time in the future. I really don't think doing 10-20 clinical hours per week is going to prevent me from having a few chickens and a goat in the future.

Also, my mom was a doctor too, and she managed to homeschool me and my two siblings, and run the state home educators' association at the same time. I've been running a nonprofit organization with 6 staff members and 40 annual volunteers (as a volunteer director) for the past 10 years, i.e. during all of my medical school and residency, and I just stepped down to let someone be paid to do it. I enjoy projects. I enjoy making things. I enjoy things that other people think are tedious and difficult.

I didn't include all that information in my question because my question wasn't about whether I should try some farming type stuff as a hobby in the future.

And now that I've come here to say that wasn't the type of answer I was looking for, and that such answers did not address the questions I asked, people are coming over here to reiterate to me what a bad idea it is! Sheesh.

Well, luckily, I am not taking some Mefites' lack of faith in my nascent farming abilities personally. :-) I also tend to thrive on other people's doubts - I was told in the past I'd never make it into medical school. When I make my first home-raised omelet, you will know about it!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:14 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I apologize for my comment. I thought about it and there was more personal stuff in there than I really intended.

I still don't think the farm is a good idea though, but less because of my opinion and more because of what people in that thread with experience managing large properties had to say.
posted by sweetkid at 7:05 PM on November 25, 2013


I'm not trying to drag the green into the grey, t+b, but yeah, a farm? What were you thinking? Just unbelievable, the audacity of some people…
posted by Nomyte at 8:02 PM on November 25, 2013


np. I did get some great answers to that question, as always. And although I am the type of person who thinks that unclogging a pond drain in a sleet storm is a character-building experience, I can certainly understand the assumption that that is not something a normal person would be interested in doing in their spare time…

t+b: part 2. If you do buy the place, can we all come visit?

mais oui! Start thinking now about Lebowski themed farm names - the question is coming!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:51 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Little Lebowski Rural Achievers.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


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