I don’t know what it is. Something must be going around.
This morning I walked to work. I had some books to mail out, and the post office is halfway between my home and my workplace, so I decided to enjoy the trek under the Space Needle despite the rather brisk air that rolled into Seattle last night.
I neared my workplace and passed a construction site. A female construction worker stood at the edge of the street beside a dump truck, holding one of those traffic signs that can be flipped between ‘Slow’ and ‘Stop.’ As I approached and while I walked past, another construction work stood atop the truck yelling at her. And I don’t mean upset, or reprimanding her. I mean yelling. Berating. His arms were all over the place. He was frantic. And he persisted.
I reached the far end of the block and looked back. He was still going. She was alternating between engaging him and trying to ignore him. Cars were flying past her.
My face flushed and my heart pounded in my chest. I walked back the half block, and called out across the street. “From my perspective, that looks an awful lot like workplace harassment! I suggest you let your coworker go back to doing her job of keeping you from getting run over.”
I am lucky that I now work at a company where, by and large, coworkers treat one another with respect. That has not always been the case. I know what a toxic workplace can do to a person’s soul.
This brings me around to our community of writers. The online world has become rich with communities. There are communities for hobbies, for professional skills, for self-help, and on an on. Every human affiliation or interest imaginable has a community online.
This is a wonderous application of technology. I interact with speculative fiction writers from other parts of my country, from Canada, from England and from Australia. I can have a real-time video conversation with someone eight thousand miles away and in a different hemisphere. That is mind-bogglingly incredible. For the first time in human history, we can interact and empathize with other people who live in very, very distant parts of our world.
And yet, the power that enables us to have amazing connections also enables the reverse.
The internet, for all its glorious connectivity, is also rather anonymizing. By removing the human face, the hurt expression, the obvious sadness that our words inflict upon others, by making that reaction happen in the dark, hundreds or thousands of miles away across datastreams and wifi, it makes us humans even more prone to stomping across one another’s feelings with digital words than with spoken ones.
On the same day that I witnessed the abusive construction interaction, I came home from my day job to discover that a very prominent science fiction blogger had taken it upon himself to skewer a published author for the opening paragraphs of his extremely popular novel.
Now, I agree that this blogger is allowed to share his opinions about an author’s work. We should be honest with one another. But the part of his post that was really offensive, that really filled me with all the moral and ethical outrage of the construction scene from this morning, was where the blogger posted a statement to this effect:
“Normally, I don’t write this kind of stuff in public, because I’m aware that it can hurt authors’ feelings. But in this case, the target of my attack is rolling in so much money, he can soothe his ailing heart with the balance of his bank account if he needs to.”
This is unacceptable.