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It will be interesting to see the comments on my entry about comments

Posted Dec 08 2008 7:04am

It was interesting to observe the reaction to two of my entries last week. First, I announced that I was sending my cat Officer Krupke to live with my mother because he could not get along with the new and more lovable kitten, Java Bean. Most everyone was supportive of the decision and related similar experiences. Then the next day I announced that I'd changed my mind and couldn't bare to part with the furry curmudgeon. Most everyone was supportive of the decision and related similar experiences.

What the hell is wrong with you people?

It appears that people were much more willing to comment on a post when they agreed with the situation. Otherwise, they tended to keep their mouths shut. This only seems polite since the post was about a personal matter. If we were discussing politics or the economy or something where a person and a cat's feelings weren't involved, I think people would be more likely to voice a dissenting opinion. You all certainly had a lot to say about natural sweeteners last month. In real life, I am only kindly critical of people I know very well and whom I know will take any advice as coming from a place of true concern. I know when I read personal blogs, I'm unlikely to criticize a personal decision of the blogger because I don't want to get on their bad side and I find it unlikely a stranger on the Internet will sway their opinion.

I do sometimes worry if blogging encourages an echo chamber, if blogs are only welcoming of people who agree with and support a blogger and make the environment uncomfortable for people who disagree. I don't want to only hear from people who are like me and think like me. Some of the most interesting discussions on this blog have come when people disagree with what I've said and start an intelligent and polite conversation about it. As long as people aren't nasty or rude, I'm usually ok with dissent. That's why my commenting policy says "lively discussion is encouraged." It's also why I say I'll delete you if you start talking smack. But, there are also some topics where I am not interested in hearing what other people think. The decisions in my personal life are not up for a vote.

The blogger certainly sets the tone for the conversations that will appear on their blog. I'm not sure how I would have reacted to kind comments encouraging me to keep Krupke when I was intent on giving him away. I'm not sure how I would have reacted to polite comments urging me to send him to Gramma's when I'd decided to keep him. But it's interesting that no one seemed to do either. I also have to wonder if I wanted people to agree with me when I was ditching my cat, and similarly wanted people to agree with me when I decided to keep him. When other people say my decision is right, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel more likely that what I am doing is right. But if people only feel comfortable commenting when they agree, I'm just fooling myself, picking out the comments I want to hear to reinforce the idea I already have.

When I first started getting comments on my blog, it was an awesome high. Hearing people say they liked my writing made me literally smile. I'd bounce around in my seat. It made me feel like I might actually be good at this writing thing. When people said, "Hell, yeah!" or said what I'd written really resonated with them, it was better than what I imagine heroin must be like. When someone said something cruel, it hurt me more than I would ever admit and stayed in my thoughts longer than I liked.

But lately I find myself not caring as much what other people think, good or bad. Sometimes I write an entry and wonder if it's really necessary for me to read the comments. Sometimes I write something because it makes me feel good all on its own, because it helps me think things through, and I don't feel the need for anyone else to agree or back me up or tell me that yes I am right and yes that was good. I feel more secure and strong in myself. I know who I am, for the most part.

Sometimes I write an entry just for me, not my audience, and I think about turning the comments off. Sometimes I'd like to blog about my headache and not have someone ask if I've tried eliminating artificial sweeteners from my diet. But I know if I turn off comments it would only draw attention to the fact that I've done it and cause people to email me asking why I did it. I know some of the old-school bloggers didn't even have comments on their blogs, which they called "online journals." But I also know blogging is a conversation, and that's part of the appeal of the medium, that we can talk back and forth and share ideas. Shutting down the conversation is an aggressive and noticeable move. However, even when comments are on, I'm acting as the moderator and can sway the conversation one way or the other by commenting in the thread. I cannot control the conversation, but I can usually steer it where I want it to go.

I have no grand conclusions here. All I know is that a blog is made by us all, though I have more power over my own domain than anyone else. This is my turf and I get to win here. Period. But I hope people aren't just writing things they know will please me. I like to examine the uncomfortable truths of life, and I can't always do that myself. All I ask is that you be polite and kindly and speak your own truth.

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