Thursday, August 28, 2008

What’s a nice girl like me doing in a snark tank like this?

(A guest post by Juggling Frogs)

That’s the gist of a couple of e-mails I received shortly after DovBear put my name up as a contributor to this blog, even before my first submission.

One person* felt mischaracterized and insulted by some of DovBear’s comments, and characterized this blog’s contentiousness as full of motzei sheim ra and lashon harah, and said it’s “as treif as a ham and shrimp sandwich”.

In another e-mail message, I was urged to use this guest posting gig as an opportunity to set right a whole list (complete with links) of perceived offenses perpetrated by various contributors over the years.

My response to both of these messages was similar. I respectfully disagreed (is that allowed?) that any of the diverse contributors on this blog have the responsibility to defend positions with which they’ve never identified. Alluding to the Streisand effect, I suggested that even if I accepted such a challenge, the results would be counterproductive.

Yet another person, upon learning that I agreed to do this, said “don’t worry, just be funny.”

Yeah. Well. Thanks. No pressure, right?

So is there a place for a gefilte fish to swim with the snarks?

I’ve seen a disturbing trend, equating unpleasant or disagreeable statements with lishon harah. We must be careful, when making protective fences, that the area enclosed not become so large as to become indefensible.

I take Lishon Harah very seriously, and actively (if not always successfully) do my best to disengage from, disrupt, and disagree with it. Calling disagreement and disapproval of ideas in the public forum “lishon harah” degrades the meaning and import of these laws.

It’s forbidden to embarrass a person. But shouldn't we also endeavor not to be too easily embarrassed?

Cutting an argument to shreds is not murder. It’s not forbidden to speak negatively about someone’s ideas. It’s possible to be a genuinely nice person, and still enjoy an incisive and biting debate.

DovBear once mused about the Rambam’s blogroll. This got me wondering what the Chofetz Chaim’s blog would have looked like.

I can’t imagine a snarky Chofetz Chaim. But then again, I doubt the Chofetz Chaim’s blog would have made everyone feel warm and fuzzy. He might not have linked to everyone. Or anyone.

I imagine he’d stir things up, intentionally making the reader uncomfortable. One is rarely moved to action, improvement, or growth in an atmosphere of complacency.

Yet, I’m torn. Besides being “treif”, ad hominem attacks are like poker tells. They indicate weakness. And some people try to make others squirm.

Gratuitously making someone uncomfortable is, well, not nice.

In this cafeteria of ideas, I’m going to try to eat my homemade tuna sandwich on a paper plate, and enjoy the company of those with whom I might disagree.

So I put the question to you, dear DovBearniks: Is “snarkiness” treif?

* This is someone I respect and care about. I agree with her, that DovBear used an unkind adjective to describe a public comment of hers. I think he misinterpreted her remark and her intent. But his wasn’t a personal attack.
Buy his book. (Because he said "please".)

No comments: