What has happened to civility? Airline passengers are punching out flight attendants. Shoppers are pulling guns on security guards who tell them to wear masks. The number of fights in our local schools has escalated. And many people interacting online no longer make any pretense of polite discourse.
A few nights ago, a woman I’ll call Lynn on an online home-design page posted photos of a room she had decorated. She was clearly proud of her work. She had repainted pink walls to a vivid shade of green, and called the space her “emerald paradise.” She was not asking for advice or opinions, just showing a room she loved.
I wasn’t crazy about the bright green walls; it’s not my thing. But that’s OK. It’s Lynn’s room. She loves the green and is proud of her other decorating choices. I did find her chandelier to be spectacularly gorgeous, so I complimented her on the chandelier, without mentioning the green walls — because that’s what you do if you’re a polite person. Right?
Other members of the group commented with compliments about the room. Many of them loved the green. And then one person — I’ll call her Betty — remarked, in total, “This is horrendous.”
I responded to Betty, saying, “That’s rude. She wasn’t asking for opinions. If you dislike her choices, the diplomatic approach would be just not to comment at all.”
And Betty laid into me, and into Lynn, detailing all the ways in which she hated the room. She called it hideous. She said it hurt her eyes to look at it. She had some merciless things to say about a wall hanging which turned out to be an actual stuffed peacock. And she declared that she could not go through life allowing Lynn to think this room was beautiful. She concluded, “Can’t handle it? Just grab that ‘snowflake’ stamp and slap it on your forehead.”
If Lynn had posted asking for advice or opinions, I would have no problem with someone responding with negative comments — though I would like to see them worded more tactfully. But this was just mean. I reported Betty’s comment to the moderator and it was removed, but only the particular one I reported, the second comment, which called the room hideous and tore it apart, bit by bit, as well as calling me (or maybe Lynn; I wasn’t certain) a snowflake. I was surprised that the moderator didn’t also remove the original “This is horrendous” post. Maybe I should have reported both, but I assumed the moderator investigating it would read the entire exchange.
Since then, the taxidermy peacock has come under more fire from Betty, who never seems to learn. Lynn, more power to her, posted more pictures of her taxidermy pieces, telling Betty, “If you didn’t like that one, you’ll hate this one even more.”
And now Betty has responded, “Joke is on you, honey. I love taxidermy work. Just not BAD taxidermy work. And yours is terrible. Sorry you spent so much money on it.” She calls Lynn’s pieces “shoddy.”
For the record, I would never hang dead animals on my walls — just in case my defense of Lynn makes you think I like this stuff. But there is no reason to be rude about it in a forum like this one.
And the rudeness continues, though I have not rejoined the conversation myself. Several others have stepped in to defend Lynn’s right to like her own decorations, and to chastise Betty for being mean about it. A few of them have been rude as well (“Shut up, Betty”). The last time I checked the page, the final comment was from Betty, charging, “You all are the same people that walk into a business and treat everyone like trash but try to pose as great citizens in your internet lives.” I’m not even sure what she’s referring to. It seems to me that she’s been treating us all a lot more badly than she’s been treated in this conversation.
The thing that worries me the most about this exchange is not that someone I have never met was mean on the internet. It’s how commonplace this kind of nastiness has become, how widely accepted. One person actually “liked” Betty’s “This is horrendous” comment. Who does that? Why?
Does attempting to crush someone’s excitement and pride in her home serve any purpose? She said she couldn’t go through life allowing Lynn to think her room was attractive. Why couldn’t she? She will never set foot in that room. Who appointed her the arbiter of taste for people she hasn’t met? In this case, Lynn turned out to be confident and resilient enough not to let Betty’s criticism make her doubt herself. But a less secure person could be devastated by such comments. Decorating choices are a matter of personal taste. And it’s just a room. Even if its owner has taste you can’t stand — it’s her room. Her green walls and stuffed peacock don’t affect anyone else.
Unless someone has asked for opinions, if you don’t like the room and can’t think of anything nice to say, just scroll on to the next post. As many of our mothers told us, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” The world seems to have forgotten that advice.