paraclete was a brash, foul-mouthed, brilliant writer who contributed really great stuff to everyone who had chance to read her work. She was also active and friendly with other folks. And, as it happens with those rare cases, she was asked to be an editor. Later, there was some conflagration, some expletives were tossed — not too many more than normal — and she was gone. The stress of being an editor, a position that results from amazing writing, denied us any further writing from her. After a while, she came back to have most of her best stuff taken away too. It was a sad day.
I don't know the specifics, and I may be doing a ridiculous disservice to everyone involved by comparing my thoughts to something I know almost nothing about. Even if my motivation to write is from a flawed understanding of events best-forgotten, the basic ideas are sound.
I've got a simple thesis.
The responsibility of being nice destroys the best talent and ultimately makes them meaner.
YARRRRRRR! Nearly every good writer starts out a pirate. Crazy, breaking the rules (as much intentionally as accidentally), off-the-cuff, and excited. The insults and abrasiveness are inseparable from the creative writing, innovation, and gregariousness because it is the subdued internal critic that lets all of it happen.
This is a problem whenever you take an independent creator and put them in a position in something bigger. Immediately, the pirate is expected to be kind of...nice to everybody. But a pirate in a bow tie doesn't work. There's this sort-of-awesome, sort-of-really-terrible thing called implied authority. You get on staff somewhere, and everything you say may be thought to be speaking for everybody. So you can't rightly call a spade a spade or a dirty drug dealer a c-...something a little girl called somebody in Kick-Ass.
You ask somebody who's naturally sharp-tongued to mind their 'p's and 'q's and you create mental problems.
What would have just been hashed out and resolved in a quick exchange of harsh words, calming down, and moving on becomes an uncomfortable game of diplomacy, masks, forced pleasantries, and back-room venting. No longer can a company pirate tell somebody to bugger off even when they deserve it, because now they might actually do it. The pirate twists his bow tie in choler while his dulling saber twitches in its scabbard.
Everything2 has lost some of its best writers because we asked them to be editors.
An OldMinerian Interlude
This issue came to mind because of a few recent events. The one I'll discuss is dealing with an old troll some of you might know as 'ush'.
At least as I write this, I'm a member of the staff on this website. It's because I write cryptic phrases with excessive punctuation that sometimes solve problems. Some day, I'll be too busy, and that'll have to end. Meanwhile, my authority extends to writing code, putting it live, and that's about it. But I still have a responsibility to present a professional face. I'm only 20% pirate, and I'm certainly not a gifted writer, but I do have one thing in common with our company pirates. Who I am on this site has to be different because of the trust placed in me for unrelated reasons.
ush, for those who didn't get the unfortunate opportunity to meet with him is a smart fellow who has a severe mental deficiency. He is incapable of understanding when he's wrong. I'm not saying he's stubborn. I mean, once he states what he has to stay, he expects that any reasonable person will instantly accept his genius and agree with him wholeheartedly. When presented with evidence he's wrong, his argument is normally "you misunderstood me". It's a key feature of narcissistic personality disorder. He wrote an unintentionally hilarious piece under that title decrying the practice of psychiatry, something he apparently finds reprehensible. His writeup has since been removed, alas.
Being handicapped in this fashion, ush behaves like a petulant child when he doesn't get his way. But a child will normally eventually respect other people's opinions, or at least a child can be easily removed from causing trouble. What we had, however, was the Lawnmower Man: a creature without normal sympathy responses but with exceptional capability. He'd write absolutely awful poetry and it would get deleted. He'd rage. He'd repost the same thing twenty times under twenty accounts. He'd get banned, and he'd get around the bans. He'd rage more. When he was pompous and ridiculous, I candidly told him what I thought, and it was certainly in less scholarly terms than I'm presenting here.
I got called into the principal's office. As a member of the staff, I wasn't supposed to irritate an already problematic situation. There has nothing that made me feel worse in my many years on here than to be dressed down for doing something I felt was entirely justified, if not earnestly needed.
Sadly, the situation got worse before it got better. One of my favorite people, Swap, underwent a minor geological event and left. Dealing with a loud, persistent, irritating presence that was driving away the people I cared about was increasingly stressful. It wouldn't have been so bad had I felt I could have responded appropriately. I began writing my own resignation. Then the issue was resolved.
Well, the ush issue was resolved. I'm still walking around slightly uncomfortable with our version of epaulettes next to my name. I still feel a swell of pride that a group of people respected my skills enough to ask me to be on staff, and that makes it worth it. But I'd sure rather feel bad for being a dick because I'm being a dick, not because somebody presumes it means we're all dicks.
The titular phrase of this piece has been around far longer than I have been. As a community with a long history, Everything2 is naturally a bit insular, which is lame. People can be oblique or unfriendly for no reason other than somebody is new and, hence, clueless to our expectations. A bunch of naturally good-natured people saw this years ago and encouraged people to, ya know, be nice.
For all of you out there who don't have a punctuation obligation to be good-natured, I suggest you try it. I know it's selfish to say it like this, but being nice feels good. At least, when you don't feel like you had to be nice.
I'm not a big fan of postscript apologies, in either definition of the word. Decent writing should be its own defense and flaws should be corrected whenever possible, not excused. I hope you'll pardon my hypocrisy here. I revised the introduction to avoid stepping on toes, and I'm quite open to suggestions.
For a writeup about "being nice," this thing is weird, I know. I was told reading this was uncomfortable, and that's intended, though maybe not for the reasons it was felt. The CliffsNotes version of all this is "When placed in a position of authority, one is obligated to be nice if she/he respects the organization she/he's in and that can have deleterious effects on one's humanity over time." and "oldminer is a little off kilter today."
2010 August 07
So, I got some things wrong. But I don't want to subject this to heavy editing. I'm a strong believer in leaving the things that I wrote as an accurate representations of their previous, flawed existences. I felt it was good enough to stand when it came out, and I hope what I leave behind are snapshots of a time, not manicured reconstructions of what I came to think was a better vision of me...
For reference, paraclete clarified the details of her reduced presence on E2 in a daylog. She also provided some messages regarding this writeup which I'll quote in part:
paraclete says re pushin' niceness: What complete and utter bullshit. "Brilliant"? I will accept 'passable'. Or 'vaguely entertaining'. I'm afraid the details of my departure and "asamoth" are incorrect, but that shouldn't detract from the overall message: why don't we all just try being nice for once?
...Though for the record: bad form to critically appraise named users in a writeup, especially one about being nice to people. Water off a ducks back to me but I winced when reading the bit about ush. And this is /after/ you'v edited it? Phew. You must have got a rollicking when this first came out. And rightly so, I'm afraid...