Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The incivility of YIKES alerts. . .

Yesterday, at 12:10 p.m., I posted this on the WMRA's Facebook page:
Today during the 2 p.m. hour of TALK OF THE NATION, we'll discuss how the Texas Board of Education (elected) has voted to rewrite history and economic textbooks to reflect more conservative views. Does hearing this trigger a YIKES alert in you? If you'd like to listen, remember we handily stream at . . .

Among the comments made in response was this one from Martha Bell Graham:
"Yikes alert" certainly colors the discussion....It's disappointing that conversations can't begin on common ground rather with a supposition like "Yikes." No wonder we're so polarized.
To put it bluntly, Ms.Graham's comment smacked me upside the head. The last thing I'd always thought I wanted to do on the WMRA Facebook page was fan the polarization fire.

The consensus of subsequent comments to that particular Facebook post was that the Texas School Board's contemplated actions warranted a "yikes alert," because they're so alarming. And most comments spelled out the reasons why they're alarming.

But that, I think, is not Ms. Graham's point. Her point is that in using the term "yikes alert" I had fallen into what I think of as Facebook-ese--the use of snappy language just to trigger a response. (Which, incidentally is what I do want to do, for Facebook is such a good way to have a conversation.) The problem was that by using the term "Yikes alert," I'd called more for a polarizing emotional response rather than for a less inflammatory, more considered one. That most people didn't respond in this way is to their credit, not mine.

I immediately e-mailed Ms. Graham and asked if I could blog about her comment. We had an interesting e-mail exchange during which Ms. Graham had this to say:
I think because I'm a writer, I am perhaps more sensitive than most about the shades of words.. . . Blogs and postings so often seem as if they are yelling — as if the afterthought is "take that!" Ironically, I believe a civil tone is more likely to stir productive discussion. 
And I believe she's right. I have sworn off "yikes alerts" on Facebook. The devil is in the details of language as much as it is in the details of everything else.

1 comment:

  1. It's a good point. Always wise to find out what's going on before jumping to conclusions. And here's the silver lining to the Texas Board of Education's vote: Texan kids leaving school and going to college will be forced to wonder if anything they were ever taught was true, and since it's very important for curious minds to question authority, they will be well-equipped to do so.