Monday, May 8, 2017

A comment thread walks into a bar.

Disclaimer:  Some people who leave comments in a thread, myself included, are perfectly gracious, thoughtful people. 

To my writer-friends who have been mauled by the others, have you ever wondered what would happen if people talked to each other in real life like they do on a comment thread? 

Let's! Let's imagine.

Let's say, you are new in town and you've just been invited by some co-workers to a bar-party. You will not know anyone there, you don't even really know your co-workers, and you don't know what to talk about. 

But earlier today you saw something that could be worth mentioning.
A man was standing on the median holding a sign in one hand while he used the other to talk on a cell phone. He yelled angrily into his phone and waved the sign around so you couldn't really tell if he wanted to work for food, or needed a few dollars, or what. 
What are the public and private views we could have of this scene, you wondered at the time? Your natural response might be sympathy but here is this person screaming at someone and now, your compassion is fighting with your fear.  
Good. You'll bring this up.
You arrive at the party. You're at the bar, and so is everyone else. You start talking about this man and his behavior. What do you do when you feel both compassionate and skeptical, you ask?

The person closest to you says, "I don't know. I figure they have enough problems. I usually hand them a five." He takes his drink and walks away.   
Two persons who have overheard this come over. 
Person 1 says, "I heard what you were saying and I see this all the time and my opinion is, GET A JOB. Then talk to me."
"That's so insensitive," Person 2 replies. "You have no idea why he's not working." 
"Really! Insensitive?" Person 1 replies. "Are you also the type who'd like to raise taxes to help him buy beer too? And go back to school for a college degree that I never even went? Snowflake." 
"That's not what a 'snowflake' is and name-calling is a sign of low intellect, my friend," says Person 2.

"I believe," says Person 3 who is nearby, "the question was how to resolve the cognitive dissonance. It is false to say that we don't have mixed emotions when we see an unusual display of mixed behaviors. But I would say to our guest, that you are more likely to regret acting on fear, than on compassion. " 
"We're not friends," says Person 1 to Person 2.
You notice that two new people are looking at you.  
"That's stupid, what you said," says Person 4.
"He reminds me of people who didn't like me in school because I had bad skin," says Person 5 to Person 4.
Person 4 agrees with person 5 and says, "I had to stay in the classroom because of bullies who made fun of my birthmark." 
"People like you who trash-talk other people who don't have money disgust me. Maybe you don't have their toughness," says Person 5 to you. 
"Despikabel," says person 4.
"That's not how you say 'despicable'," says person 2. 
"This is so first world," person 6 says to you, "how you sound sympathetic, but really don't like people if they aren't like you. I see it all the time." 
"Yeah," person 7 says to you, "Cry me a river, I can tell from your shoes that you never had to work a day in your life." 
"The man on the median is why Trump got elected," says person 8 from the edge of the crowd where there isn't much light. 
"Trump is an ass****" person 9 shoots back. 
"Trump knows our country has forced people to stand on the median. And he's going to fix that. You watch," says person 1, who is drunk. 
"You people who think Trump even knows who you are," says person 2, "are the problem." 
"There is no unity in proving another wrong so that you can be right," says person 3. "Let's stop talking fault, and start talking solutions!" 
"You're an idiot," says person 9. 
"You're all missing the point," person 10 says, "did you even listen to what our new friend was saying?" 
"Trump," says person 1, "we're talking about Trump." 
"I had really bad skin in high school, but I took medication for it and it was fine!" says person 11 to person 5. 
"That's really irresponsible," says person 2 to person 11. "The side effects include insanity." 
"You're insane," says person 1 
"You're all in a dark basement. In the dark," says person 6
Everyone looks at Person 6 with expressions of WTF.  

"Ass**** Trump supporter," says Person 9 to Person 1.
"Snowflake," slurs Person 1. 
"That's not what 'snowflake' means," says Person 2.
The conversation is now taking place without you. It's as if you're already home in bed while persons 1 -11 are becoming Lord of the Flies.   
The next day, you mention this to your co-worker, the hostile nature of the conversation, the name-calling and attacks, the off-topic departures, and the absence of real discussion after you launched such a great ice breaker.
"That's how they are," says your co-worker. "They're always there but they're not there for the conversation. They just want to be somewhere at all. And even when they pick on each other, they're still engaged in the same activity."

You know you'll come back to this bar. You'll take a seat, throw out a topic and enjoy your adult beverage while the crowd devours it. You'll understand that commenters are looking for one thing more than anything else which is another person that appears to be listening. 

You may or may not elect to be that person. But you'll know that what's most important is that you didn't elect to go home and stay there. 

The end.


  1. BRILLIANT!! Especially after the shit show I somehow stumbled upon just recently. LOVE this, actually, hate its accuracy, but love the content! sharing!

    1. Ha! Thank you, Kate! I had fun with this one :)

  2. Great post. Have you seen "The Circle" yet? All the comments flying back and forth on the screen--makes you dizzy. Our new reality. We all want to be heard...and "liked."

    1. Thank you, Risa! I have not seen "The Circle," but I will check it out. I'm fascinated (and sometimes dismayed) to see what people will say from behind the screen, but yes, it's where we've gone to leave our two cents. It's made me extra polite when I do comment.

  3. Sheer genius--and I dare someone I don't know to leave a comment differing with my opinion! :-)

    1. Thank you Lee! I've always found it hard to deal with really mean-spirited comments, but humor helps a ton.

  4. Susan, This is so true. I had a troll come crawling out yesterday. Wow! But like you just pointed out, "You know you'll come back to this bar. You'll take a seat, throw out a topic and enjoy your adult beverage while the crowd devours it. You'll understand that commenters are looking for one thing more than anything else which is another person that appears to be listening." I hope you don't mind if I use that quote someday in the future. Thank you.


  5. Hi b+! I'm sorry about your troll, but yes, they're rarely about you and mostly about them. It was my son (a writer) who pointed out: the good comments don't make you write, the bad ones shouldn't make you stop. Smart kid.

  6. I loved this - it doesn't happen on my blog because I don't usually write about anything that engages the angy people enough to get riled up about. BUT in my case this week I went home from the bar and got smacked over the back of the head by a family member who took offence and will probably cut off communication for a while - you just can't please everyone and I think I've finally stopped trying!

    1. Oh Leanne, I'm sorry. As writers, we run the risk of hitting a nerve but not usually because we want to. It hurts when someone reads something in a way you probably didn't intend and cuts off communication. And yes, after a point it's healthy to stop trying to change their feelings.