To End Kerfluffles…

…have some manners? It’s the end of convention season, and with that comes both celebratory squee-age as well a host of issues that are related to bullying, sexual harassment, and bad behavior. But where? And why? We’re a community of geeks, right? We’ve been bullied, ostracized, and know what it’s like to be different. So why can’t we accept one another for who we are?

The reality, though, is that a community is not homogeneous. It’s not going to be this idyllic place where everyone gets along because we share common interests. Sure, we have the potential to get along better because we have something in common, but there are many dynamics on a personal and cultural level involved.

This, my dear readers, is where I personally believe the trouble with accepting everyone and not respecting them comes into play. On an idyllic level, sure. Humanity should be this beautiful, amazing, conglomeration of exceptional people who go forth and do wondrous things. As a race? Sure. But on the person to person level, we see and experience that this is not the case. Sometimes? People are assholes. Sometimes people are assholes in response to a specific situation that has caused them to be an asshole, then they turn around and do something not-assholish. Other times? People are well-spoken, well-behaved, and generally nice people. Until you press their buttons or threaten them, then they do or say something someone else might think is assholish behavior. Are there assholes through and through? Sure. But, the majority of the time, people will respond in the manner in which they are treated. In other words, even assholes can be nice, and the majority of the time people are and want to be nice, provided you are nice to them.

Face-to-face reactions change interpersonal dynamics completely along with cultural quirks. (e.g. I talk with my hands. A lot. And no, this is not intentional. I just “do.”) As does the internet, or what is commonly known as “The Invisible Man” syndrome. Take away the consequences to people’s reactions and all of a sudden? SURPRISINGLY, people have the tendency to commit acts of asshatness. Unless, of course, you understand the consequences of the actions you take online. Then, you’re conscientious enough not to.

What’s missing in today’s geek culture is respect. I mean it. Respect. NOT acceptance. Acceptance says you will like anyone, include anyone, and be kind to everyone. This is an impossibility on every level. Case in point. The first day of GenCon in the elevator there were a group of teenagers who proceeded to tell me that they liked my staff t-shirt so much it’d be better on the floor of their bedrooms. I said nothing. I regret this, but I shut down, and I said absolutely nothing. Because that is how I respond to bullies — by saying nothing. Unfortunately, I cannot not say nothing anymore. Either I would have made some sarcastic remark or I should have said: “Would you talk to your mother that way? No? Then don’t talk to strangers that way, either.” Alas, hindsight. 20/20.

But, circling back to my original point, do you think I should have embraced these teens with open arms and treated them with kindness and respect? You mean, like they did me? No, they did not deserve to be honored in the same way I might approach a professional I admired, a close friend, or a fan I adore. They were strangers and they addressed me in a manner that was outside of my comfort zone. Again, let me repeat that: they were strangers. Even *if* I had “met” them online, to me they are a stranger because I hadn’t interacted with them before on a personal level.

As a personal rule, I base my relationships primarily on my offline interactions with them. I don’t make close friends easily, but I make acquaintances all the time. Close friends are treated differently than (what I like to call) cyberpals and while I err on the side of polite as much as possible? I would rather do that than make demands on anyone else’s time or energy — especially given my professional roles and aims. But something has happened, hasn’t it? There’s a number of expectations now that people are more accessible online. If someone does not follow me back or respond to me on Twitter, then someone did not follow me back or respond to me. Often, that doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t like me personally or doesn’t want to be acquaintances or friends or that they had to respond — this is a computer program, people. And some of us can only follow so many people before it gets overwhelming. If a celebrity follows me on Twitter, then that person follows me on Twitter. It doesn’t mean that I get to arrange a dinner with them or ask them for free stuff or whatever. It just means that they follow me on Twitter and, if I meet them in person, that’s a way of introduction as opposed to an obligation. And so on Facebook, and so forth on a website, and so on.

It can be very tricky to bridge the online and offline gap and I’m no expert at it. Usually, I try to explain who I am in context to give the person in question a reference and go from there. It’s not a perfect solution, but generally speaking, have not had major crisis issues where I’ve caused problems of an indeterminable size because I try to respect people’s boundaries and be nice even on my crabby days when I don’t want to be. I’m a *lot* better when I get to know people one on one than I am meeting people for the first time or in a group, too. Or, as one of my friends put it, because I am the consummate “hostess.” Then, my personality emerges which is, by default, mercurial at best.

Now, go back to those scenarios where we have to interact with geeky people whose preferences I don’t understand. Like the brony culture. I don’t get why it’s popular. Does that mean, because I’m a geek, I have to accept them as people in all their geekery? There’s nothing wrong with my opinion, provided I don’t hurt others by expressing it or proselytize that everyone agrees with me. If bronies want to be bronies, then go forth and be bronies. Who in the ninth circle of hell am I to judge? This is where respect comes into play. I’m not going to treat someone like crap just because I don’t agree with them or don’t like what they’re into or whatever. Respect says that you (e.g. human being, planet Earth) acknowledge the existence of other human being, planet Earth. You do not force someone else to believe or think the same way you do. Period. End of story. Get on with your day. And smile. (Or not.) Acceptance, on the other hand, says that wheeeeeeeeeee everyone deserves to be lurved and treated the same way and everyone lurves everyone else and wheeeeeeeee we all lurve each other and everyone’s okay. Not logical, not possible. This isn’t a bad thing, this just is.

To take this a step further (and yes, I am FULLY aware of the irony of this post given that I’m saying I shouldn’t judge, but in a way I have) it cannot and should not stop there. When there’s a conflict, there should (even though our political leaders haven’t really been doing this) be mutual respect so that both sides can compromise on a solution that works best for them. When someone says: “You hurt me…” or “I was hurt by…” the appropriate response is: “Can you explain…” “Do you have time to talk…” “I would like to listen…” It is NOT “Well, I don’t understand it ergo that can’t be right.” If the two of you can’t work out the conflict, then get a neutral mediator or drop the subject and have a nice day. (For examples, see author Jim C. Hines post here: Crap People Say About Sexual Harassment).

Pushing people’s buttons by talking about a person you cannot personally address creates (wait for it) drama or (wait for it, again) a lack of acceptance that you’re causing. Rumors and other machinations of that sort hurt people because by the time it gets back to the source? It’s distorted through the lens of gossip. Not only is it counterproductive, it also presents a bad face to what the geek culture is all about. Again, that’s why I make every attempt to base my assessments of people on when/how/etc. I meet them face-to-face and not on their reputation or what everyone else thinks. Or, to be blunt: I try to think for myself. SHOCKING. The times I haven’t, were the moments I screwed up utterly. The times I have, I can better manage the situation, because I am interacting with human being, planet earth and not the face on the side of my lunch box. Although, lunch box sides can be quite pleasant to talk to if you’re bored and really want to know what Thor is thinking.

Here’s another example. When you tell someone “You can’t possibly feel that way…” you invalidate them as a human being who lives on Planet Earth. You bring into question how they feel and feelings? Are never wrong. They’re not. The judgment and rationale and thought processes that lead to that emotion may absolutely be in question, but the only way to work through any negative emotion or troublesome spot is to address it like adults. If you’re shy, and you can’t do that, then consider whether or not the matter is worth pursuing. Maybe ask for a second opinion if you’re not sure, too. Or verify the source of your displeasure. Or maybe you find out what the policies on “x” are at a convention you’re attending so if you do run into a kerfluffle issue then you take action in the medium where people are prepared to help you. If, at the end of the day, you determine that the situation wasn’t a big deal? Then let it go. Not everyone is going to like you, agree with you, embrace you. Again, the geek culture is not this magical place where humans don’t exist. It’s our humanity that causes interpersonal issues — not our interests.

So, to sum up. You are a human being. You reside along with billions of other people on planet earth. You have every right to be treated like a decent human being. But, if you cross that line, if you try to accept perfect strangers and demand they like you in return? Trouble is bound to follow you because you’re bringing people into your life too quickly based on some inanimate thing you share in common. You’re not getting to know them as a person; you’re getting to know them in the way you believe they should interact with you because of what they like or what they can do for you. That, right there, is where all these kerfluffles begin. Because it feels like we’re assuming how we should act because of these things that make us happy and, thereby, tend to gloss over any negative behavior. We really haven’t dealt with how we are acting and what we can, as human beings, do to make our community better for the people involved.

Maybe, just maybe, our geek community would fare better if we removed the “geek” portion and focused on our humanity. Maybe then, we wouldn’t have as many problems as we do.

Go forth and be awesome.

The opinions voiced here today were written pre-coffee, post-sugary breakfast cereal. The author is not responsible for any misinterpretations of said post given her default sarcastic nature nor does she make any claims that she herself is perfect or that she has any answers to life, the universe, and everything. To address any issues or to clarify anything here, post in the comments below and she’ll respond when she’s more coherent and has stolen a little bit of sanity back from Cthulhu.

    Mood: Rollercoaster of dooooooooom.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I was bad. Can I leave it at that? Or I’m gonna be.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Bwahahahahaha.
    In My Ears: The rain. No, this is not a song. It’s just “the rain.”
    Game Last Played: Erm…
    Movie Last Viewed: Safe House.
    Latest Artistic Project: Feh.
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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