Essay:Staying cool when the editing gets hot

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RationalWiki has seen two bitter disputes. It is easy to get into disputes online, especially as being online can enable near-immediate responses – reactions – but please remember that we are all here for more or less the same reason and that there is a real human being at the other end of your conversation. Flame wars are counter-productive and make RationalWiki a less pleasant project for everyone.

Here is a short list of tips from experienced contributors to Wikipedia:

  1. If someone disagrees with you, make sure you try to understand why. Take the time and effort to explain why you think your suggestion or suggestions might be preferable.
  2. Don't label, give names or even disparage people or their edits; assume good faith for as long as possible. Terms such as "racist", "fascist", "pernicious" etc., enrage people and make them defensive. When this happens, productive discussion becomes very difficult.
  3. Take it slow. There is no time limit for a discussion. If you're angry, take time out instead of posting or editing. Come back in a day or a week. You might find that someone else has made the change or comment you wanted for you.
  4. Keep in mind that raw text is ambiguous and often seems ruder than the same words coming from a person standing in front of you. Text comes without facial expressions, vocal inflection or body language. It is easy to misjudge the mood and intention of the person who wrote it, all the more because when two people are at loggerheads, it is often because they are operating under very different assumptions and/or aren't communicating well with each other. In responding, make it clear as to what you are responding; paraphrasing or stating how you interpreted someone's comments is usually more effective than simply quoting them. Furthermore, qualify your interpretation with a remark such as "as you seem to be saying" or "as I understand you" to acknowledge that you are making an interpretation. Even if you doubt you have misunderstood a person, it is still possible that you may have done so. Even if you feel sure that someone is absolutely "wrong" about something, it is polite to suggest that you may have misinterpreted their view.
  5. Assume the best about people whenever possible; assume good faith, as Wikipedia phrases it. RationalWiki has worked reasonably well for six weeks based on a policy of mobocracy. This suggests that most people who visit do want to help and do succeed in trying to do so.
  6. Be prepared to apologise. In the heat of the moment we sometimes say things that were better left unsaid; the least we can then do is make amends.
  7. Try to avoid deleting things as a matter of principle. When you amend and edit, it is remarkable how you might see something useful in what you might be about to remove. Almost everyone – including you – has something useful to say. Deletion upsets people and makes them feel they have wasted their time; at the very least leave some indication of your rationale in an edit summary, if not in an entry on a Talk page or in a message to a user or users you think might be perturbed by your action.
  8. Sometimes you just need to walk away. There are over ten administrators here and another twenty or thirty users who can take over for you. Do not let an argument supersede your personal RationalWiki time. Take a time out from a situation that gets too frustrating; work on other articles, or take a break from RationalWiki in general.
  9. Please, please, please don't be a dick. Think about whether each action is going to make things better or worse. If an action might make things worse, give active consideration to not doing it.

Dealing with insults[edit]

Occasionally, on RationalWiki, despite our community standard that we should not engage in personal attacks, harsh words get flung around. There are various ways to deal with this:

  1. Just ignore it. Name-calling may be offensive but it is not very helpful or mature. Go about your business and do not worry about it; you are not required to respond.
  2. Politely ask the person who you feel has insulted you to retract what they said. Sometimes people say something insulting by accident, not realizing that their words could be taken in a certain way. Other times people will change the way they act when they realize they have offended someone.
    If you yourself, through accident or anger, insult someone, an apology might smooth things over. If you sincerely meant the insult and cannot honestly apologize, sometimes it is best to fall silent. If that does not work, try refocusing on the issue at hand; try to be more specific about what action you disagree with, rather than insulting the person.
  3. Instead of reacting to the insult with a return insult, or getting upset, try to concentrate on figuring out why they insulted you. In most cases they may just be kidding you. If that is not the case, then try not to let their problem(s) become yours. We all have enough problems in our lives.

See also[edit]