Notes From the Social Media Deportment Department

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Is it too late in the day, too quaint a notion, to revive an idea of social deportment your grandmother called being nice?

We all know social media is an unavoidable part of a writer’s branding and marketing. But we also know that the Sturm und Drang of contemporary culture and interchange is rife with anger, hate, bile, vituperation, ridicule, and scorn—and that’s on a good day.

There are many reasons to avoid becoming part of the hatestream, not the least of which is that it can mess you up mentally. People get addicted to hate and the Dopamine rush of spewing it. Day after month after year of that will shrivel a soul as surely as meth shrivels the brain.

These thoughts crossed my mind recently as I perused a book published in 1899. I get daily alerts from Gutenberg.org, the site that churns out ebook editions of public domain works. If I see a title that intrigues me, I’ll have a look. One such title was Twentieth Century Culture and Deportment by Maude C. Cook. Turned out to be a big tome on etiquette. And what is etiquette but rules of behavior that keep us from being boors, jerks, haters, and dopes?

You decide. Here’s a sampling:

Learn to govern yourself and to be gentle and patient.

Guard your temper, especially in seasons of ill-health, irritation, and trouble, and soften it by a sense of your own shortcomings and errors.

Never speak or act in anger.

Remember that, valuable as is the gift of speech, silence is often more valuable.

Do not expect too much from others, but forbear and forgive, as you desire forbearance and forgiveness yourself.

Never retort a sharp or angry word. It is the second word that makes the quarrel.

Beware of the first disagreement.

Learn to speak in a gentle tone of voice.

Learn to say kind and pleasant things when opportunity offers.

Study the characters of those with whom you come in contact, and sympathize with them in all their troubles, however small.

Think social media would be a tad different in tone if people took the above advice? More:

Never permit yourself to be drawn into an argument in general society. Nothing can be more provocative of anger on one side or another, or more destructive to conversation, than a lengthy and, too often, bitter argument. Good breeding would suggest that the subject be changed at once before the controversy becomes heated. Especially should any debate upon politics or religion be avoided as subjects upon which two seldom agree, but which are so close to the hearts of the majority as to cause serious annoyance if their pet beliefs are touched upon or questioned. Be careful, also, not to take the opposite side of every question that is brought up in conversation.

All this to say I know myself well enough to know I can too easily get sucked into a heated exchange. So I avoid them, especially on social media, which is the worst place on Earth to have a rational discussion on anything controversial. It is easier to be a balloon in a knife throwing contest.

So…be nice.

And just because I want to help, here’s some further advice from the book. Pass this along to your sons and daughters.

Romantic advice for women:

As to temper or disposition, the woman can easily gain some insight into the respective peculiarities of another’s temperament by a little quiet observation. If the gentleman be courteous and careful in his attentions to his mother and sisters, and behave with ease and consideration toward all women, irrespective of age, rank, or present condition, she may feel that her first estimate was a correct one. On the other hand, should he show disrespect toward women as a class, sneer at sacred things, evince an inclination for expensive pleasures in advance of his means, or for low amusements or companionship; be cruel to the horse he drives, or display an absence of all energy in his business pursuits, then is it time to gently, but firmly, repel all nearer advances on his part.

Romantic advice for men:

To a man who has become fascinated with some womanly ideal, we would say, if the acquaintanceship be very recent, and he, as yet, a stranger to her relatives, that he should first consider in detail his position and prospects in life, and judge whether or not they are such as would justify him in striving to win the lady’s affections, and later on her hand in marriage. Assured upon this point, and let no young man think that a fortune is necessary for the wooing of any woman worth the winning, let him then gain the needful introductions through some mutual friend to her parents or guardians.

Under the heading “Trifling”:

Still more reprehensible is the conduct of the man who insinuates himself into the affections of a young girl by every protestation and avowal possible, save that which would be binding upon himself, and then withdraws his attentions with the boastful consciousness that he has not committed himself.

***

Again, the young lady who willfully, knowingly, deliberately, draws on a man to place hand and heart at her disposal simply for the pleasure of refusing him and thus adding one more name to her list of rejected proposals, is utterly unworthy the name of woman.

Maybe the “old way” of doing things wasn’t so bad after all. What do you think?

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39 thoughts on “Notes From the Social Media Deportment Department

  1. So true. What people say and how they say it on social media boggles the mind. Not to mention everyone believes everything they see. You’ll never change anyone’s mind. Although sometimes it’s tough, my “rule” for social media is “Do Not Engage.”

    • I agree, Terry. Any mind changing that happens is almost always the result of individual contact, reasoned discussion, and patience…none of which prevails on social media.

  2. Good advice. Particularly since you cannot engage people in calm, sane, discussion on topics (believe me, I’ve tried). So 95% of the time, I just avoid it altogether.

  3. Often these days what used to be called courtship has become a contest of wills to end in conquest. All behavior is fair in this type of love and war including lying, cheating, and stealing. A lot of rules have been tossed out the window. I gave up trying to give advice in some cases. It’s ignored and many have to learn the hard way. They think they already know everything and sometimes resent advice. Of course, a few take their time and listen. There’s always hope. —- Suzanne

  4. It’s tough. I’ll read a news article or watch a video, scroll down and look at a few comments. “Of course” (the quotes indicate self-reproach) these commenters are morons and I consider it my duty as an informed individual to educate them (and the masses).
    .
    I’ve made headway. I avoid comments – reading or writing, on any news site, blog or video post. But it’s very hard sometimes to see and ignore the often “willful ignorance” of so many.
    .
    I love those bits you posted regarding social deportment. Very difficult to imagine people abiding by these rules today. I believe it’s the anonymity of social media that creates much of the problem. There are no consequences. But public/in-person deportment, though comparatively better, is a far cry from Ms. Cook’s recommendations. This is, in my humble opinion, the fault of parents.
    .
    Thank you for a very interesting post.

    • Yeah, Carl, the dedication to willful ignorance is super frustrating. Worse is that for every willful ignoramus there is an “amen corner” on social media that will uphold and cheer on the imbecility, further thwarting the possibility of a changed mind.

  5. Thanks for sharing this timeless wisdom, Jim.

    Back then, face to face or contact by letters were the only means to communicate. Now, with the anonymity of social media, people can hide behind their screens and lob nastiness around the globe w/o fear of repercussion.

    COVID is further destroying the ability to connect intimately with people. That’s why I’m resolved to keep in contact by whatever means possible with people I care about.

    If one can throw a Molotov cocktail (physical or verbal) and never have to see the consequences their actions, the suffering they cause to others, or live with the results, sadly, they’ll keep throwing Molotov cocktails.

    Living by those quaint, old-fashioned principles makes a better life for both oneself and everyone else around.

    • You’re so right, Debbie. The deleterious effects of a society-wide lockdown are becoming more and more irrefutable…except on social media, where if even a doctor dares question the prevailing orthodoxy, he or she is stuck like a balloon on the cancellation dartboard.

  6. Definitely better. Definitely, says Ray Babbitt.

    Never retort a sharp or angry word. It is the second word that makes the quarrel. T.R.U.T.H.

    My Momma used to say it to us like this: You don’t have to answer every challenge. There were four of us, two girls and two boys, so she had lots of opportunities to remind us.

    I have a love/hate relationship with SM. It seems like there’s two kinds of people represented there: the kind who just want to communicate, encourage, inspire, and get along; and the other kind who use it for their own personal soap box.

    The ones who really irritate me are the latter kind. They seem to enjoy throwing darts to see if they hit anything. Drive-bys. Throw a punch and run like cowards. Using their screens like Roman shields. They never look back to see the broken psyches left behind in some very vulnerable folks.

    SM is a blessing and a curse. Which it is on any given day depends on how much joe I’ve had that morning. And I never, ever look at it before that first sip, or before my TKZ fix of sanity and decorum of a morning.

  7. I agree, “the ‘old way’ of doing things wasn’t so bad after all.”

    You’re making us think, and that’s good. After all, if our exchange with others was “in person,” wouldn’t we be more careful of what we say, and how we say it? Hopefully, we would think (at least a little bit) before we spoke. Even a telephone call encourages some etiquette. And an old fashioned letter written with time and care requires some thought before we send our message.

    Social media, however, allows – possibly even encourages – quick-draw, shoot-from-the-hip communication. And, even worse, allows the sender to hide behind some anonymity, and without seeing the damage the message has inflicted.

    Finally, I hesitate to add, but must, most of these rules of how we treat each other are based on the “old books” of wisdom and religion from many different cultures. Unfortunately, those “old books” have been relegated to the dust pile.

    “Those who do not learn from history (the ‘old way’) are doomed…”

    • The Golden Rule is not called “golden” for nothing, right Steve? It’s universal, too. Jesus put it this way: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them.

      Confucius came at it from another angle: Do not do to others what you would not wish done to you.

  8. Good morning, Jim

    Thank you! This is timeless advice. It comes down to being self-aware, polite and considerate, listening more than speaking. I endeavor to do like you, and always be nice and kind on social media, though it can be a challenge at times not to respond to those who aren’t.

    Remembering my Great Grandmother Mary helps. Mary was born in 1890, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and went to finishing school in the early 1900s. Unfailingly polite, with perfect posture and poise, who counseled me to always walk on the right. She lived to be 92 and had social graces and proper etiquette until the end of her life.

    She would no doubt disapprove of the vitriol spewed on social media, and for good reason.

    She also told me about living through the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-19, but she did it a polite, circumspect manner, so there were no gory details. I think of her often these days, and how much harder she had it then I do during our present pandemic, especially being a young mother with two boys, yet faced challenges with thoughtfulness, care, and kindness, always “walking on the right.”

  9. The youngs’ current version of the Golden Rule is “Don’t be a douche.” Works for me most of the time.

    There’s also the Southern Lady secret rule of deportment and behavior “Smile politely and beat them to death with subtle passive-aggressive behavior.” That works for me, too. “Bless your heart” with its many shades of meaning from bland to nasty according to nuance and situation should only be used by experts and mostly in person.

  10. A rude practice I have noticed in the comments sections of newspapers, magazines, and blogs is this: the prevalence of people who criticize or bash other people’s comments. During the few times this happened to me, I just ignored the comment, no point in encouraging bad form.

    • I’ve seen this as well. “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all,” may not always be appropriate, but it would help with comments on social media IMHO.

  11. I briefly belonged to a writers’ chat group on a very popular book site. I bowed out after being blasted because I suggested book reviews be honest but respectful. Members screamed at me that respectful didn’t equate with honesty. I asked if foul language and threats of maiming and death were necessary. They insisted they did, showing the true honesty of the reviewer. That was too much for me and I told them so. I was told I was too sensitive? Being respectful is being sensitive?

    As for the other social media, I am very, very careful what I engage in. If someone becomes too hateful, I hide their posts or tweets or whatever forum it is. I stay mostly with “socializing” as my goal.

    Your post reinforces the way I was raised and still try to adhere to now. As the song said, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

    Great post, and very timely. I am sharing this on my social media sites. Thank you!

  12. I quit Facebook and all other social media 3 years ago, and I never looked back. I didn’t like the constant menu of negativity and, to be honest, the way I had easily contributed to it. I woke up one day and wondered why I was debating politics with a guy I hadn’t seen since 8th grade.

    One of the interesting side effects is I no longer know about “news” or trends. Friends will mention some absurd “event” as if it’s a huge deal, meanwhile I know nothing about it because I’m not on social media.

  13. Words of wisdom and maybe even more relevant to the twenty-first century because of the anonymous nature of social media verbal warfare.

    I read somewhere that anger can be addictive because it causes the heart to beat faster, increasing blood flow to muscles, making the person feel stronger and more in control. A person can come to enjoy that feeling, but in the long run, it’s harmful to one’s physical and mental health.

    The good thing about online discussions is that you don’t have to join in. Not like sitting in a room with friends when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think about [fill in the blank controversial subject]?” My answer: “Would anybody care for more coffee?”

    • Yes, and getting “clicks” and “likes” is also addictive, and those we all know now come from controversy and outrage and copious use f F bombs and the like. No thanks.

  14. Thank you for this, Jim. I plan on reading this book cover to cover and picking up some pointers. Maud C. Smith was apparently very well known at the turn of the (20th) century and wrote a number of books concerning etiquette, courtesy, and meal preparation. And thanks for the reminder about gutenberg.org!

  15. So true. The best weapon we have is the ability to scroll. This is why I share murder memes, funny animal pics, or writing related stuff. Anymore than that and I risk getting into trouble. 🙂

  16. Thanks for this! I’m going to grab that book. It sounds like lovely advice. I’m with the rest of you–the less exposure to social media, the better. I find that it kills my muse. In a writing group I’m in, the writers there say that social media wrecks their ability to write. I’ve been taking lots of lengthy breaks from it. When I check back in, I haven’t missed much. The horrible stuff is still going on. I can minimize my contact with it, though. I have kids starting school next week, and I don’t have time to dwell on the latest nasty thing some person said. :-p

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