More Compassionate Advice September 25, 2023 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed in a couple of AskMes that the answers/advice being given can really be harsh sometimes. Especially when the person asking has maybe not been their best selves. Reading through a thread can seem like a pile on. I'm wondering if this is truly helpful.

I could see how sometimes a little "tough love" is not a bad thing. However, it also seems like a person who is being a bit of jerk or who could reflect more on how their behavior impacts others, might be more inclined to change their behavior/reflect if the advice was given with a bit more kindness.

I'm not making any formal requests to change anything, just wondering about how to dial up the compassion a bit.
posted by brookeb to Etiquette/Policy at 8:03 AM (62 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

As a practical point, I (almost) always read the whole thread before commenting (on all sites). This prevents me from making a point someone else has already made, and helps reduce piles-on. I mean, if three people have already said “it sounds like you’re the problem here, who needs me to be the 4th? Or if 5 people have already recommended a book/movie/restaurant/whatever, I can always “nth” it if I feel strongly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:22 AM on September 25, 2023 [15 favorites]


There is at least one user who has been asking endless variations on the same two or three human relations questions for years, with an added potpourri of academic questions that should be resolved first by a conversation with their academic advisor, and relatively basic technical questions that could be addressed by a google search. For a while, I was trying my sincere best to help that user, but I've recently come to the conclusion that the answers here are not helping them, for whatever reason. I made a couple of sternly-worded posts encouraging that user to share more relevant info, and to reach out to their academic advisor or other folks who could help them better than strangers on the internet. Silence. At this point I'm just no longer going to engage with that user's posts (including, I think, the one that spurred this MeTa).

I suspect that everyone will go through the "stages of grief" on different timelines with users like this -- just because I've reached the point of frustration where I'm no longer willing to comment, other people are still trying and getting frustrated and saying frustrated things, and other users aren't tracking the history and are just reacting out of the desire to help. Not sure what to do about it, but I suspect there's a combination of all these things in that thread.
posted by Alterscape at 9:43 AM on September 25, 2023 [50 favorites]


I agree with Alterscape. The user in question is not using AskMe in good faith.
posted by dianeF at 9:49 AM on September 25, 2023 [27 favorites]


MetaTalk isn't AITA or an excuse for people to be shitty. Sometimes you do need to say something that might be hurtful or unpleasant for the poster in order to keep them from doing something that could be bad for them (or for someone else). But generally people should attempt to do that with some amount of care and delicacy
posted by Jarcat at 9:50 AM on September 25, 2023 [10 favorites]


Oh okay, so MetaTalk is where it okay to be an asshole, but its not okay in Ask. There's so many rules to keep track of, we should like write these down for people to read.
posted by Jarcat at 10:04 AM on September 25, 2023 [14 favorites]


Wait, so it's mean and unnecessary to say "I have reached the conclusion that I don't have anything kind to say, so I'm not going to say anything at all?" I was sharing my journey to that point as a way of trying to explain what I saw in that thread and maybe help others reach the same point, rather than continuing to pile on. I feel for that user, I truly do, I just am not sure that giving similar advice to a similar question for the nth time is going to change anything, and therefore I'm just going to sit it out rather than continue to say frustrated things to them, when, yeah, that's probably not helping them.

I don't know if the user is intentionally engaging in bad faith, or just in a place where internet advice isn't useful. I think it's kinder to assume the latter, I just don't know what to do about it other than not reply.
posted by Alterscape at 10:05 AM on September 25, 2023 [33 favorites]


Singling out a user to talk about here as an example is what's not kind, imo. And yeah, not necessary.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:10 AM on September 25, 2023 [12 favorites]


Point taken, tiny frying pan and Rock 'em Sock 'em. I don't know why that situation pushes my buttons, but push my buttons it does, to the point where I'm saying rude things that you're right, I'll regret. That's a "me" problem not a "MetaFilter" problem. Removing from recent activity, stepping away from this thread.
posted by Alterscape at 10:27 AM on September 25, 2023 [19 favorites]


I think it’s a good reminder, so thank you for the post.

It’s funny but I do think the most common question to go that way (for me as a responder, too; I came down a bit harder then I probably ideally should have lately) is the sort of AITA questions. I remember one about a girlfriend and bra washing situation that I think of sometimes when I’m hanging one of mine up.

And I guess I do have an assumption that in the “who’s right, me or them?” questions multiple perspectives are helpful, even if the perspective isn’t in the poster’s “favour” - and sometimes numbers or different ways of putting things are actually the point.

I also think that this community has a higher than average tendency to track individuals across questions. Sometimes that leads to a lot more compassion (I think we’re all rooting for someone who’s going through cancer treatment right now) and sometimes it leads to less. That’s pretty human. But it’s good to also work to centre values.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2023 [10 favorites]


I appreciate Alterscape’s honesty, and I think it would be disingenuous to ignore that this was prompted by some recent Asks that became pile ons. Not only the one he is referring to, but there have been others that turned into a scoldfest.

Sometimes the compassionate answer is not answering at all.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:35 AM on September 25, 2023 [35 favorites]


I think sometimes in Ask people put their desire to be helpful above the asker's need to be helped; I feel like I have to put a lot of well-formatted caveats on my posts (so people will hopefully actually read them) and it's exhausting to feel like you need to be so careful to phrase things exactly correctly to get people to give you answers that are helpful and relevant to you. There are times I've avoided asking a question at all because the prospect of either workshopping it until it was perfect or wading though sometimes hostile non-answers was overwhelming and worse than just going without the community advice/information/input.

I do think there are often problems with the ways in which answerers engage and I've heard people say "what's the harm in unhelpful answers" but if you need help wading through a lot of people ignoring what you're asking or being kind of aggressive at you is really unpleasant especially if you're in a vulnerable place. I have sympathy and appreciation for people who've just decided not to answer; I would much rather have no answer than a bad or mean one.
posted by an octopus IRL at 11:16 AM on September 25, 2023 [31 favorites]


betweenthebars: "Sometimes the compassionate answer is not answering at all."

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
posted by signal at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2023


I think actually sometimes it's important to be harsh in Ask, most particularly if a lot of comments in thread have been like "You go! You're totally right in this situation" when the Asker most definitely is not, because otherwise, they run the risk of doubling down in their personal relationship and ruining the situation they are trying to fix.

There are also situations where I, personally, would have been helped by more harshness on the part of people answering my own questions. Here is a harsh but super necessary answer a fellow mefite gave me about my now-ex-husband who was at the time making jokes about deportation after the Trump win. At the time, yes, I found the soothing and kind answers more helpful, but you know what? I did need to divorce that guy. The comments that told me to DTMFA were right. The comments that told my more explicit sock puppet that nothing would change, that I was putting blinders on and it was never going to go anywhere good? Were right. And even though I didn't hear them at the time, I went back to them again and again over the years, rereading them to realize that no, I wasn't insane, the guy was abusive and terrible to me and I needed to stop making excuses for him.

Ask isn't always about being soothed. Ask is about being helped. And help takes many forms.
posted by corb at 11:28 AM on September 25, 2023 [58 favorites]


an octopus IRL: I feel like I have to put a lot of well-formatted caveats on my posts (so people will hopefully actually read them) and it's exhausting to feel like you need to be so careful to phrase things exactly correctly to get people to give you answers that are helpful and relevant to you.

Even something simple and unambiguous like the asker's location will generally get overlooked. Elsewherians will state their location as a matter of course, because otherwise we'll be given advice that assumes we're in the US; but even then, it will often not be noticed.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:28 AM on September 25, 2023 [11 favorites]


The number of people who truly pile on is not very large, and when that happens people do flag the comments and they are often deleted.

corb is spot on; this site would be far less helpful if our default response was always "give the person the benefit of the doubt and always be kind and supportive." That doesn't always work. And keep in mind there are plenty of trolls who take advantage of that; I remember one guy who kept asking odd questions until he finally asked "Hey, I have this sore on my penis, what should I do about it?" Don't forget this is the internet, full of people with bad faith.
posted by Melismata at 11:36 AM on September 25, 2023 [6 favorites]


I think Alterscape makes a reasonable point about some posters in Ask who seem to want to vent or wallow rather than get answers, and that isn’t really what the site is for. However, I think the solution is to not engage after you figure out there is no way you can feel good about engaging (note: that can also mean “I don’t have an answer”).

On the flip side, there are a lot of Answerers on Ask who seem to want to answer whether they can meet the criteria of the question. I’ll occasionally post some that’s an “edge case,” but mostly I shrug and move on, because an off-topic answer is worse than no answer at all, for me, at least, when I Ask.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2023 [9 favorites]


I remember one guy who kept asking odd questions until he finally asked "Hey, I have this sore on my penis, what should I do about it?"

With a linked image, if I remember correctly.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:59 PM on September 25, 2023 [4 favorites]


I wasn't being a jerk to you, I was being blunt about your terrible ex, which actually was being nice and compassionate towards you

This is true and I agree! Though actually I was linking someone else, so many of you correctly called out my terrible ex. You should all feel great about that! Genuinely! Really I should have actually held an IRL meetup and had a party. Hell, I still might.

I think what I'm trying to say is that sometimes being kind and compassionate does require pointing out the choices that the Asker is making that are contributing to the situation, like staying in a relationship with someone who is slowly poisoning their happiness. But I do agree that nitpicking and metatalking about their question history is neither helpful nor compassionate.
posted by corb at 1:13 PM on September 25, 2023 [9 favorites]


Sometimes the best & compassionate answer is to give the asker a fish, sometimes it's to teach them how to fish. I'm not clear if this MeTa is about a specific case or not, but looking at Alterscape's answers in some threads, I think they fall in the category of "Here's something that will help you learn to fish." They don't seem unkind. Perhaps curt or spare, but not harsh or mean.

Brookeb (and I guess Rock 'em Sock 'em), can you clarify if you're saying that those kinds of answers are harsh, and not "compassionate"? Or can you give some examples of what you do mean? Personally I wouldn't find AskMe as useful if answers were kind at the expense of being helpful. But it's probably rare that those are mutually exclusive.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2023 [7 favorites]


I remember one guy who kept asking odd questions until he finally asked "Hey, I have this sore on my penis, what should I do about it?"

With a linked image, if I remember correctly.


I remember this, too, somewhat fondly, as an artifact of the time when MetaFilter hadn't grown big enough to need the guidelines and moderation that developed, or else hadn't recognized the importance of them. There was a certain pleasure in those free-wheeling days, even if there was also pain.
posted by Well I never at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2023


And the deletion reason was pitch-perfect too, trying to be both sympathetic and pissed off at the same time, something like "If you need medical attention see a doctor, but we've helped you all we can here."
posted by Melismata at 1:47 PM on September 25, 2023 [2 favorites]


Ask isn't always about being soothed. Ask is about being helped.

Agreed, in spades.

Mefite Asks trying to find a lost dog or pick out a nail polish color differs from anguish over relationships. Well-meaning Mefites could be more careful when giving general advice (DTMA). It's useful to remember that the Asker often composes a question filtered through a lens of painful experience. Responders are reaching into their life experiences to touch what seems to resonate.

I am reminded of a sign I saw on a clerk's window more than fifty years ago: "I know you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I don't believe you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Many a thread has been turned into a chain of ever-refining responses between one or two commenters, trying to jam someone's foot back into their mouth while the person in question tries valiantly to get their shoelaces out from between their two front teeth. These exchanges sometimes lead to someone buttoning but usually stop barely short of exchanging expletives.

If you squeeze the snark out it, you can see some sense to it. In any case, a frank opinion is better than a patronizing stroke. I'm not sure harsh is appropriate to this usage. If a particular Asker raises a person's dander, maybe giving the Ask a pass would be appropriate, at least until you can think it over. N'thing answers aren't piling on.

Finally, several years ago, someone in Ask pleaded for help concerning their dog. I won't go into details, but I judged the conditions under which the dog was being kept to be outrageous and said so. A moderator deleted my post and gently discussed my reaction with me. Once I got off my high horse I understood the reason for the deletion without abandoning my opinion.

(Thanks Jessamyn)
posted by mule98J at 2:13 PM on September 25, 2023 [4 favorites]


Speaking as someone who quit academia two months ago: there are situations where continuing to AskMe instead of asking your supervisors, peers or librarians will ultimately be a detriment to your well-being and success. I'm sure there are other professional analogues.
posted by avocet at 2:40 PM on September 25, 2023 [18 favorites]


When someone in real life gives me soft advice, it makes me feel condescended to. Just tell me what you actually think, or share your own lived experience, so I can weigh that information and either apply it or discard it as I see fit.

It's like when someone at work I never speak to sends me a chat that says "hello, how is your day?" Just ask me what you need to ask me, we both know why we're here.
posted by phunniemee at 2:54 PM on September 25, 2023 [4 favorites]


corb is spot on; this site would be far less helpful if our default response was always "give the person the benefit of the doubt and always be kind and supportive."

Compassion would be LESS helpful? You can't be serious.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:04 PM on September 25, 2023


Compassion would be LESS helpful? You can't be serious.

As an example: I do not believe there's a supportive, benefit-of-the-doubt response to a question like this one, which I have never been able to forget.
posted by phunniemee at 3:22 PM on September 25, 2023 [14 favorites]


I do not believe there's a supportive, benefit-of-the-doubt response to a question like this one, which I have never been able to forget.

....You don't think it's possible to tell someone they really fucked up without also telling them that they're an asshole? That's easy.

"Look. Buddy. You REALLY need to let this go. Do not talk to the poor woman again; I know she said something snarky, but so did you. For whatever reason you guys somehow bring out the worst in each other; it happens sometimes. But the thing is - now you know that about each other, so the wisest thing to do - for you, for her, and also for the general good - is to leave this alone. Seriously. You said you struggle with anxiety; this sounds like the best thing to focus on. But please, PLEASE let this go."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:28 PM on September 25, 2023 [4 favorites]


looking at Alterscape's answers in some threads, I think they fall in the category of "Here's something that will help you learn to fish."

Using an individual, identifiable poster to illustrate the concept of judging someone to be unhelpable was not great but Alterscape’s actual replies on Ask seem just fine, and their frustration seems fair. It just could have been expressed without making it personal.
posted by atoxyl at 3:33 PM on September 25, 2023 [9 favorites]


Tone questions aside, in the spirit of practicality, perhaps there should be a limit on Asks per week? This would weed out posters using it as a pseudo-Google or ChatGPT.
posted by kingdead at 3:49 PM on September 25, 2023 [5 favorites]


Noooo don't drag us backwards (speaking as the person who initially proposed the one per week limit be raised to two, a legend in my own time)
posted by an octopus IRL at 4:03 PM on September 25, 2023 [20 favorites]


Once I got off my high horse I understood the reason for the deletion without abandoning my opinion.
For literally years, I've been trying to find a way to convey this about Mod action and I'll stick to ME. But good to see Mule J and corb, I value yours is(1) wisdom.

I had my first ask deleted about...a month or two back. A spot on reason note and I totally agree. who or what is 123 Cat lane ( actually a different address) in literature was the question and I no better. thinking twice I was trying to play Jeopardy which could probably devolve quickly into something like Family feud. thing was I already knew the answer and that's why I came to that conclusion and that is not what asked me is for. In the beginning days of ask me I asked for a screen shot from the Porter's Lodge in tinker tailor soldier Spy and got one within hours. I have that screensaver today. I also have to agree that it is not about the most soothing answer because I remember one asked me, I found a really really small error in history and literature that I don't think anybody found (OMG, look what I found) and I remember one member who's not really with us but is a friend and quite Uber smart excoriated me in that beautiful tone that he had and I tell you I felt like I was back junior high school with a D on my paper. But it was a just a question, in academia equivalent to have you seen this cat. sometimes members have a way a conversing on many levels in one comment I've come to believe that this generally works with members who either know each other or have had conversations over time.

(1) a seeming conjunction of words is sometimes used in Michiganenesse referring to two people and a concept, I know it doesn't make sense)

by the way, I found that small error by just googling two words so it wasn't really me who found the error, it was an algorithm. I just never had the heart to tell him.
posted by clavdivs at 4:05 PM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]


Trying to think through this and I think there are instances where it's not just about helpfulness to the Asker but others as well.

One Ask that keeps coming up in my mind (in general daily life, not just for this thread) is a question that was like "How do I meet attractive WOC, who can date me and do the work of teaching me about racism/feminism?" I don't recall the specific user but that question upset me to the point of seriously considering buttoning. Way too close to dodging and dealing with sexual aggression from racist/fetishist dudes IRL. I don't know if "harshness" is the solution but coddling, soft answers aren't enough to make some people realize they're being creepy or predatory.

Separate example: We had a professor who would be nice and say "That's a good question" to any question. The problem is that "There are no stupid questions" isn't always true. Some questions were very misguided or lazy, of the "Everyone is now dumber for having heard it" variety, or even offensive or hurtful, but we would pay time and attention to them because the prof said it was a "good question".

AskMe was what drew me to the site initially. It was like a crash course on wisdom--better than other question sites--and it helped me navigate issues, especially for stuff friends/family didn't know about. But it's become less instructive over time...Repetitive nothing-learned questions and the attrition of opinionated and experienced commenters are a big part of that.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 4:07 PM on September 25, 2023 [11 favorites]


(1) a seeming conjunction of words is sometimes used in Michiganenesse referring to two people and a concept, I know it doesn't make sense)

It’s “yours’s”. Possessive of the plural ‘yours’
posted by bowbeacon at 4:20 PM on September 25, 2023 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify, my prompt was not about a specific user. Please carry on with the discussion. As I said, I'm not suggesting any rule changes or that anyone change their approach, simply interested in thinking more about the ways we address one another.
posted by brookeb at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2023 [5 favorites]


But it's a lot to act like people are Ruining the Site because they ask stuff that doesn't personally appeal to you.

I know, it would be ridiculous to act like people are Ruining the Site because they answer stuff in a way that doesn't personally appeal to you.
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2023 [12 favorites]


Is it "Jesus and yours's" or "Jesus' and yours's" or "Jesus's and yours's"?
posted by Flunkie at 5:11 PM on September 25, 2023


Maybe a bit more context, or rambling musings...I did post the MeTa in response to reading answers to a type of AITA question. The question itself is really not so important, which is why I'm not answering another question about specific examples up the spread.

In reading the answers, I was prompted to think about when I have confronted people in my life who were acting like jerks or being hurtful in some way. I never had success getting someone to change their behavior/jerkiness by harshly telling them they were being an asshole. That doesn't mean shielding people from a difficult truth or pointed criticism, but I know I aspire to people hearing those things when I have to say them and not automatically getting defensive and not changing at all.
posted by brookeb at 5:34 PM on September 25, 2023

I never had success getting someone to change their behavior/jerkiness by harshly telling them they were being an asshole.
Are you sure?

For example, just because they didn't change their behavior immediately doesn't mean they didn't remember you saying it in the future, and perhaps adjusting their behavior due to it. Not saying this is obviously what happens, or even all that common, but I do think it's possible that someone who might feel, in the moment, that they are under attack might later reflect on the conversation less passionately.
posted by Flunkie at 5:40 PM on September 25, 2023 [3 favorites]


I agree that tone is an important thing to consider. There's a way to say "you should rethink how you're looking at this/behaving and here's why" without essentially saying "you suck as a person ". This line gets blurred more in MetaTalk and honestly that's why I generally don't participate here, but it often gets blurred in the human relations questions too.

I do think it's very difficult to answer those questions without making assumptions (whether harsh or not) because who could possibly describe all of the nuances of their friendships, feelings, actions in a short post? Nevertheless, if your assumption is that the asker is just like your ex who was a total jerk, I think there's a way to address it without insulting them (and generally acting like you are 100% positive about the feelings behind their statements/actions).

Anyway, as someone who loves human relations questions and wishes we had more, I'd love to see people offer more compassion towards askers. Thanks for posting this!
posted by Eyelash at 5:45 PM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]


Rock 'em Sock 'em.... Nothing Alterscape describes is close to a vendetta. Sockin'inthefreeworld gave a thoughtful response. Someone saying the site has become less instructive over time is hardly eye-rolling or a claim people are Ruining the Site. A measured opinion about the usefulness of the site is clearly not someone saying, "this stuff doesn't personally appeal" to me. You're distorting discussion points that are worth having.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:49 PM on September 25, 2023 [24 favorites]


It’s “yours’s”. Possessive of the plural ‘yours

absolutely true but it's spoken as your iz like: I believe in yourIz wisdom. only one s not two.
posted by clavdivs at 6:30 PM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]


Repetitive questions are not the problem if you mean someone asked the same question last year and now I posted basically the same one. They are a problem if I keep asking about my horrible job and never take any advice on changing or leaving it and write it as if it is a brand new question every time.

I, too, have stopped answering certain people's questions. It is mostly for my own sanity. But also, I don't think our communication styles will work well together if I start out being annoyed by the mere phrasing of their questions. I started to clarify a comment that got an OP angry but then I stopped because I knew I was not the right person to deliver that message.
posted by soelo at 6:47 PM on September 25, 2023 [11 favorites]


Ask isn't always about being soothed. Ask is about being helped. And help takes many forms.

Exactly. A real and growing issue for the site as a whole is the creeping toxic positivity embodied by this Meta. There seems to be a rising drumbeat of softening and sanding off everything in the name of "compassion" and "kindness". Of course you shouldn't be a dick, but this relentless positivity drive makes both AskMe and MetaFilter itself less useful and interesting.
posted by star gentle uterus at 6:48 PM on September 25, 2023 [27 favorites]


At some point I think people should perhaps take a bit more personal responsibility for what they read and spend their time on. It would be one thing if someone were using multiple sockpuppets or otherwise abusing the site. Instead, all that happens is you don't click on the questions. If you want to complain or roll your eyes, whatever, none of us are angels. But it's a lot to act like people are Ruining the Site because they ask stuff that doesn't personally appeal to you.

Sigh. The only foolproof way is not to read anything on the internet (or, really, exist at all, I guess).

We read Ask because we want to help. Sometimes we don't know until we click that a question is going to be beyond-mere-noise jerky like the one phunniemee linked to. And the meeting-WOC one I mentioned was from a user in my geographic area at the time, at a time when there was a spate of assaults against people (especially women) of certain ethnicities, so there was an additional IRL threat layer--what are we supposed to do, stay home forever because we can't tell if the person who just approached me or my sisters is going to be a racist misogynist predator? This is beyond some academic exercise. We point out how these behaviors or thought processes are harming people and ruining days and relationships and saying hey this is problematic--and get to be told it's our fault.

It would be genuinely wonderful if pushback, harsh pile-on or otherwise, could prompt these potential jerks away from hurting or burdening more people online AND offline.

I do them the responsible "courtesy" of taking big breaks from this site and not engaging; it'd be nice if they returned the favor and thought more before releasing that jerkiness into the world. (On preview, seeing that it was an AITA type question that inspired this thread: If we're talking about responsibility, isn't it incumbent on the Asker to expect people to, you know, answer the question? Literally asking for it.)

And don't worry, I'm under no illusion that it's Ruining the Site ("can't ruin a safe space you never had amirite"). Just offering one datapoint of how I thought MeFi brought value, which you'd think could be of interest with all these MetaTalk threads on retaining userbase and increasing engagement amid everything enshittifying. We'll stop hearing from thoughtful people, experienced, knowledgeable, kind people, because they'll do the "responsible" thing and go offline.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 6:59 PM on September 25, 2023 [6 favorites]



It’s “yours’s”. Possessive of the plural ‘yours


Yeah, where I come from, it's "Your'n," or "Y'alls." The first one is spelled that way to show that it's not a typo, and the second one is already assumed to be possessive, so it doesn't need an apostrophe, Sometimes it's "Youins." Context is everything.
posted by mule98J at 8:19 PM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]


I'm getting tired of people answering Asks with "why didn't you search on Google?" Or "ask your advisor in grad school" and some of these comments were repetitive across several Asks, so that the persons answering were not letting it go that they thought this person's asks were not useful. I thought we weren't supposed to answer asks if we didn't have a clear helpful answer?
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 10:27 PM on September 25, 2023 [3 favorites]


Not sure about a call to be more compassionate, but definitely support a call to be aware of pile ons, and not to add to them.

People have different ideas of what compassion means, and what's useful to a particular asker - blunt advice, or affirmation.

But a comment that just repeats what the many previous posters have already said is usually not great, especially if it's scolding (scolding and blunt advice are not the same thing) .

Three or four people affirming previous comments is useful to establish consensus, but beyond that it starts to feel like bullying.

I think it's different when comments are blunt but essentially affirming, eg multiple comments stating "you're in danger, leave this relationship now" is not what is call a pile up.

But more than 4 or 5 comments saying "you should break up, you're the problem in this relationship, your partner deserves better" worries me.

We don't know what is really going on in the askers life, and multiple people scolding them seems unlikely to be helping anyone.
posted by Zumbador at 10:37 PM on September 25, 2023 [15 favorites]


Exactly. A real and growing issue for the site as a whole is the creeping toxic positivity embodied by this Meta. There seems to be a rising drumbeat of softening and sanding off everything in the name of "compassion" and "kindness". Of course you shouldn't be a dick, but this relentless positivity drive makes both AskMe and MetaFilter itself less useful and interesting.

Since you called out "Compassion" and I'm the one who first used that....Really, all I meant was "you shouldn't be a dick" when I said that.

So, we agree that "you shouldn't be a dick". Now, what is this "toxic positivity" you see in AskMe?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 AM on September 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


The clear and helpful answer, sometimes, is that you're in a scenario with much better resources to answer than Ask Mefi, such as a grad school advisor to answer academic questions. I don't think pointing that out, when it comes up, is the worst thing?

There are better or worse ways to phrase it, but I think it is both a clear and useful answer.
posted by sagc at 5:43 AM on September 26, 2023 [13 favorites]


Now, what is this "toxic positivity" you see in AskMe?

I've certainly had comments deleted for being toxically negative so by default

silenced all my life
posted by phunniemee at 6:07 AM on September 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


and since someone else already invoked jessamyn's librarian ethos in making AskMe an excellent community, I will wonder aloud if one of my previous answers is "tiring" because it's not directly answering the question

Where have you tried searching already, and how did you go about it? is how I was trained to answer such questions, while also helping establish the limits of the paywalled resources the asker has access to

and amusingly academic librarians are also trained to assume the asker doesn't really know what they're asking for, lol
posted by avocet at 6:14 AM on September 26, 2023 [8 favorites]


All I know is that without naming names, there’s only one user here who keeps me from participating altogether. Until they can get themselves a little more pro-social this is the last comment I’m making. They Win!
posted by Dressed2K1ll at 6:19 AM on September 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


This thread has so much weird stuff in it.
posted by Mid at 6:25 AM on September 26, 2023 [28 favorites]


I agree that "you shouldn't be a dick" is exactly what I meant by compassion. I don't think that if someone is asking a question with some problematic assumptions that they shouldn't be questioned on those assumptions, I agree that questioning is an extremely valuable aspect of Metafilter. But again there's a way to say "you should rethink how you're looking at this/behaving and here's why" without essentially saying "you suck as a person ".
posted by Eyelash at 8:08 AM on September 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


Absolutely, ask your advisor is a fine answer (the first time), but saying that and then admonishing the asker that "you're not ready for grad school if you keep asking these questions here" was said and then implied over multiple asks.

When we post in Ask, it already prompts us to search for previous Asks and Google. I don't think it's helpful for someone else to say that again.

I think it's not being fair to folks who might not automatically check all their resources before asking a question here. This can be one of those sources.
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 9:29 AM on September 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


I think compassion is essential but I think compassion is not simple.

In a thread like the one phunniemee cited, attempts to couch comments softly and on OP's level run the risk of obscuring the problem and keeping OP comfortable but uninformed; comfortable but stuck.

In that example, the OP admitted he posted because he hoped to hear a lot more of what he'd been hearing from his friends, namely "women! Who knows why they act like that? whaddayagonnado?" That's what he wanted to hear, what, in fact, he as much as asked to be told, but that's not actually the honest answer to his question. Answers in that thread that float along politely implying no fault on the part of the OP ("sometimes shit just goes sideways") may seem compassionate, but when compared to answers that state the problem clearly and explain what the OP could do to solve it, those answers are disengaged and even dishonest. In that example, answers that tackled the problem head on and explained to the OP how his behavior in fact drove his former friend away were more compassionate than answers that confirmed his "who knows why it happened; nothing I can do about it" bias. Revealing people's biases and wrongheadedness to them is compassion. Because the OP got the actual true answer to his question, "you behaved like an asshole; here is specifically how you behaved like an asshole; here is how you can avoid behaving like an asshole in the future," from person after person in that thread and only a couple that risked confirming his and his friends' bias that women are illogical, he at least had the chance to solve his problem.

In repeated bad relationship threads where somebody is stuck in something godawful and it's evident to all that the person should've D'dTMFA a decade ago and this is the fourteenth thread about it, people tend to lose patience. I'm hell of conflicted in that situation. Because on the one hand, it's compassionate to confirm for the fortieth time that yes, the MF is in fact a MF and should be D'd. But on the other hand, what if typing on MetaFilter and getting dozens of internet strangers angry at their MF allows the potential dumper of the MF to let off just enough steam to tolerate the MF's most-recent insult or injury and they stay in the relationship even longer? On still another hand--there are so many hands--having been in similar idiotic and seemingly endless bad relationships and talked about them endlessly to my friends, would I not have felt deserted had they lost patience and refused to listen anymore...? Yes, that would have felt very bad. I would have felt even more alone. Alone is precisely not how one needs to feel in that situation. And in fact I did get out of those relationships, probably thanks at least in part to hearing myself tell the horror stories out loud to dispassionate listeners. So I try to stay engaged in those threads and "meet people where they are." I remain honest, but I also look for progress and if I see progress, I point it out--even if it's not progress that leads all the way out of the relationship, yet. It can be infuriating, because the answer appears simple to anybody not in the thing, but I remember my friends' gentleness, the ones who did not get angry at me. They continued to meet me where I was throughout all my painful and protracted arias about the shocking sins of the MF in question. Eventually I wandered out on my own, either sooner or later than I would have had I not talked to my friends about it over and over for years. It doesn't matter, in retrospect. All that matters is that it ended. It ended in the fullness of time. Sometimes in those threads it's possible to see progress and hope that the fullness of time is perhaps near at hand. That's at least a bit heartening.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:52 AM on September 26, 2023 [9 favorites]


It took myself being mocked elsewhere to stop looking at "elsewhere" with regards to Metafilter. I'm ok with missing nasty context - people are gonna people, and that includes some of that behavior, unfortunately.

I realize I am advocating being a gray rock on the Gray heh
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:28 AM on September 26, 2023 [1 favorite]


Hmm.

Genuine question.

Why are so many comments here so oblique? Is it better to refer to a person or an online space indirectly to avoid drawing fire?

Is it better not to call someone out directly to avoid things escalating?

Does that work?
posted by Zumbador at 11:59 AM on September 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


I think it's because management has asked us in the past not to bring drama from other sites here...nor can they police what members here do elsewhere.
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:38 PM on September 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


Why are so many comments here so oblique?
Someone was overly specific in a comment above and someone else called them mean.
posted by soelo at 3:12 PM on September 26, 2023 [17 favorites]


So, we agree that "you shouldn't be a dick". Now, what is this "toxic positivity" you see in AskMe?

I've always associated toxic positivity with smarm, partly because On Smarm—which got the word permanently lodged in my head—is largely about the rhetorical technique of using "niceness" as a pretext for silencing voices and controlling conversations. Basically, I think it's common online to create hyperspecific "rules for conduct" that gradually make it harder and harder and harder to say certain things, by claiming that it's more-or-less impossible to say those things without being mean or offensive or impolite.

It's tricky, right? We come from all kinds of different cultures. Some people find impoliteness to be deeply offensive and hurtful; some people are most at home when everybody's blunt to a fault. And it's hard to reconcile this, but I've often heard it said that you have to prioritize people who are going to feel hurt by stuff, because they're being hurt. The goal should be to minimize hurt as much as possible.

I agree with that... to a point. Because every community that I've seen practice this as a black-and-white rule has, without fail, wound up in insanely fucked-up places. The moment you make it clear that "one person finds one thing hurtful" is grounds to making that One Thing against the rules, you give people grounds to weaponize their own hurt, or claims of being hurt, and you wind up with a community that's controlled by some mixture of deeply neurotic individuals and obscenely Machiavellian fucks. Said communities often wind up with a cultlike sheen to it: everyone involved agrees that this is "the only safe place" to have healthy conversations online, which reinforces the idea that if this place feels fucked-up to you, then you're the one filled with toxins, and you should probably seek moral cleansing.

The problem in larger communities, in my experience—including but not limited to MetaFilter—is that different kinds of blind spot can all coexist. So you wind up with some places where people are way too INsensitive, are overtly hurtful to one another, and revel in their freedom to be intolerant, and some places where people are TOO sensitive, and other people are exploiting that overt sensitivity. Then you get two factions of people, one of which complains about toxic positivity and one of which complains about overt negativity, and then the two factions see each other and get really pissed off and start screaming at one another. And then you get threads like this! :D :D :D :D :D

Personally, I feel like conversations about tone are more useful than prescriptive declarations about tone. "We all need to be kinder on AskMe" is probably not categorically true, and requires a bunch of nuance and caveats. "No, we should not be kinder on AskMe" is equally worthless. But there's room to talk about tendencies that feel heartless or like gang-ups (as has happened in this thread), and there's room to talk about where harsher tones do feel appropriate (as has also happened in this thread).

My personal experience is that MetaFilter has often fallen problematically into that toxic-positivity sphere of focusing on tone while ignoring really shitty underlying behaviors. At the same time, MetaFilter still has some fundamental issues with people being dicks to one another, and with instances of flat-out bigotry being permitted, so I get why some people bristle at the suggestion that this site's problem is people being too nice. I think that both those things are simultaneously true, and that it's important to acknowledge them both. "Site tone" isn't a single point along a sliding scale of "nice" to "mean," it's a plurality.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 4:48 AM on September 27, 2023 [34 favorites]


I'm with Don Pepino on this:

In repeated bad relationship threads where somebody is stuck in something godawful and it's evident to all that the person should've D'dTMFA a decade ago and this is the fourteenth thread about it, people tend to lose patience. I'm hell of conflicted in that situation. Because on the one hand, it's compassionate to confirm for the fortieth time that yes, the MF is in fact a MF and should be D'd. But on the other hand, what if typing on MetaFilter and getting dozens of internet strangers angry at their MF allows the potential dumper of the MF to let off just enough steam to tolerate the MF's most-recent insult or injury and they stay in the relationship even longer? On still another hand--there are so many hands--having been in similar idiotic and seemingly endless bad relationships and talked about them endlessly to my friends, would I not have felt deserted had they lost patience and refused to listen anymore...? Yes, that would have felt very bad. I would have felt even more alone. Alone is precisely not how one needs to feel in that situation. And in fact I did get out of those relationships, probably thanks at least in part to hearing myself tell the horror stories out loud to dispassionate listeners.

I have zero idea who/what the academic poster was, clearly I missed that one, but I admit my personal "argh" is where the relationship stuff comes in. I do think my patience has been...eroding...on that score, but also it's the exact same logic DP points out.

To some degree, there's a difference between ranting and complaining (god knows on a certain chat site, I have horrific whines about a certain topic, but I'm TRYING not to ask for advice), and then there's deliberately asking other people's opinion and bugging them for help about it. That can invite madness. I tend to be (both IRL and on AskMefi) all "hey, I may give advice, but I'm not the one that has to live with the problem so it's on you" about advice giving. I personally think a friend of mine should quit an organization that she loves because one of the people running it has been stalking and harassing her off and on since high school and the organization has made it clear they are on HIS side and not hers, and men escalate. But she's decided she would rather put up with the stalking and harassing than quit, as long as he keeps it to creepy staring and conspicuous photographing and doesn't actually touch her. I may disagree, but it's not mine to live with, and all I can do is quietly support her, possibly reiterate that quitting for her own safety is a good idea when he acts up again, and then let it go.

God knows I have my own issues that I could whine on about to everyone on Ask Me (I restrain myself from asking personal stuff for a reason and if I ever cave in and do one, god help me because I'll get ripped some new holes and will deserve them), but I try to limit my doing that because as you point out, everyone else hearing it gets fatigue, snaps, and tells you to shut the heck up if you're not going to do anything about it. Everyone gets compassion fatigue and then feels like a jerk about it, but we get it. Hell, I feel whiny on a topic RIGHT NOW but I will have to restrain myself from talking about it because I've abused everyone's patience IRL on the topic. Since I have whined and whined and not done anything because I cannot figure out if Speaking Up And Saying Something will only make it worse (I note that all but one person I've asked's answer is "SAY SOMETHING!!!!!", one person said to keep my mouth shut), it's on me to shut up and deal with my pain myself. I will note that whining for "help" IRL doesn't really do anything for me, doesn't end up making me feel better except in a blowing off steam/ranting sort of way (which I admit I enjoy a lot, but perhaps should not), and only annoys the shit out of IRL people. Internet's probably even worse since more people are seeing it.

(Which is to say, there but for my own restraint go I, because I could be the person who asks the same shit multiple times, and I certainly get the urge to do it.)

But...some people are not aware of that listener fatigue, still, after a bunch of posts. It could be worse (this NYT article I just saw on a lady who was deluded about having a relationship for 11 years!!! I can't imagine having conversations with her about this one), but maybe this would be remedied by putting a moratorium on asking the same question repeatedly if there's no drastically new information that changes the question.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2023 [1 favorite]


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