I think no-one I know has recently made a fool of themselves on any e-mail list, so this is probably a good time to write this entry.
(Note: If you have recently made a fool of yourself on a list, journal, MySpace, comments section, or dead stump, this post isn't about you. Clearly not about you, as the previous paragraph would suggest. Thanks.)
I've said before that when it comes to the internet, we're all five years old. I'm actually revising that upwards - we're obnoxious eight year-olds, all "I know my rights!", "You're not the boss of me!" , and "I'm not tired! I can stay up as late as I want!!". Or I could revise it downwards to two, but most people on the 'nets have a slightly larger vocabulary, if admittedly not much more in the way of spelling skills.
(Man, I'd better not get a typo in this post after that joke.)
In the realm of cyberspace, we have to learn to grow up all over again, and, as we all found out the first time, being a grown-up isn't always all it's cracked up to be. You don't get to post the posty post of righteous smackdown postiness whenever you want to, and walk away with no consequences. You don't get to talk smack, make mean fun of people, or spew your fury over all and sundry just because you didn't get what you want without affecting your image. Being an adult in the SCA, and enjoying all the adult privileges, (possible) importance, and (hopefully someday) power thereunto pertaining means acting like an adult all the time, not just when you feel like it.
I'm sure you are all on board with me so far, but I'm going to use a dieting metaphor to illustrate my point, since I like it:
When you're a kid, if someone puts a plate of thirty really great cupcakes in front of you, with frosting and sugar sprinkles and whatever you like in the cupcake line, and says "dig in", you do. The concept of there possibly being consequences for mainlining 30 cupcakes (frosting three inches deep, enough sugar sprinkles to cause a three-year sugar high, etc.) simply isn't part of the equation; you're living in the minute, and at this particular minute, there are cupcakes to be eaten as fast as possible in case the adult changes their mind and takes them away. The subsequent stomachache comes as a surprise.
When you're an adult, if someone puts a plate of thirty cupcakes (or whatever floats your boat) in front of you and says "dig in!", consideration of the consequences kicks in before you even take a single bite. Will it ruin my diet? Will I get a headache from the sugar? Is the bliss of the cupcake eating worth the regret and recriminations later? Am I going to give in anyway? How will I deal with the fallout from all that eating? Maybe I should only take a couple and limit my indulgence?
Adults have to make that kind of decision all the time. Even on the Intarwebs, where the consequences aren't as immediately obvious as the mess from vomiting up thirty barely-chewed cupcakes. Sometimes we bite before we realize what we've done; we're all human. But adults realize that there is a price attached to even the most accidental bite; some of their hard-earned respect will be taken away from them, even if they made a silly mistake.
A lot of people seem to approach the on-line arena as children - act on impulse, be surprised when things go sideways. Yes, it would be satisfying to go up and tell Lord So-and-So* to his face that he's always screwed up autocratting events, and no-one wants him to do this one, and everyone hates him and really wishes he's just leave, but anyone with an ounce of adult sense (or, y'know, decency) in them knows that's not the way an adult behaves.
We know this, yet people do it on-line all the time. I can't remember a week going by since SCA e-mail lists first started when I didn't hear about a "flame war" on some list or other. It's really quite extraordinary that in almost ten years of the SCA being on-line in a major way, that we still haven't managed to work out how to communicate without giving into our cupcake-gorging impulses.
Really. I mean, really.
Nothing has ever been solved by creating drama; sure, it's a rush at the time, and everyone gets the impulse to just smash with the great big club of fury now and then, but as adults, we know that every time the club is raised,
the person wielding it will receive the most damage in the end. Drama, and responding violently to drama, just gets everyone splattered with frosting, and those buttercream stains are a bitch to remove.
"But being an adult sucks sometimes", I hear you say. "Can't I just let go and do it just this once?".
No. It's human to screw up and do something you regret, but to go into something knowing (even on a barely conscious level) that you're saying to yourself "fuck being an adult, I'm going to just let go" negates any shred of forgiveness people might have for your outburst. Worse, it isn't too long before "Just this once" becomes a habit, and you're flying off the handle every six months or so. Yes, being an adult sucks, but being known for throwing a wobbly whenever things don't go your way is much, much worse, trust me. It also gets easier not to scream in public/on-line when you don't do it at all; it's much harder to behave if in the back of your head a little voice is going "c'mon, you haven't yelled in ages. Do it. Do it. Dooooo iiitttttttttttttttttttttttt".
And I know whereof I speak - most of you think of me as that icy, terrifying, controlled, evil mastermind that you have come to know and love, but underneath, I am a seething fireball of rage. I write the most horrific e-mails in my head, or even on my (disconnected) computer, but I know I can't send them, no matter how provoked I feel. Heck, I won't even write about them here; I keep this journal 99% public to remind me that if I get in the habit of being angry and impulsive, it will spill over into other areas of my life, and I've worked too hard to claw myself up to a level where I'm mostly okay with myself and my behaviour to let all that go just because it would feel good to tell Lady Whats-her-name** what I really think of her.
Every time we say "I'm not going to be an adult, just this once", every time the temptation gets too much, we erase part of the path we have already travelled. Once the fallout has ...um... fallen, you don't get to start back where you left off. In fact, you don't even get to make that decision; everyone who watched you call Mistress Hoodie-whatsit*** a bitch because she told you not to do something has now decided for themselves how far you have reversed your progress. It could be a couple of months, or it could be two years; you won't know, and it will be longer than you think you deserve.
Because you do deserve to be pushed back if you make a habit of blowing up; not because you hurt someone's feelings (though they may be understandably pissed off), but because someone who regularly decides to act like a child when they're angry is someone who cannot be trusted to make the right decisions at the most critical time. When the shit goes down, we need cool heads in charge and on hand to douse the flames ( pinkleader is a master at this. Hi, pinkleader****! *waves*). If you watch the people (you don't have to like them, just observe them, as if you're stalking skittish wildebeest on the Serengeti)***** who hold and keep the top positions of real responsibility in the SCA and handle those responsibilites well, you'll see people who keep a straight head even when everyone around them is screaming.
This is not to say they don't get angry themselves; they do. But they save it for private moments with people they can trust.
I think there's a part of all of us that thinks at one time or another "it would be so great to be important, because then I could smack down all the people that piss everyone off so bad", but if you'll find that if you make it to the level of importance where everyone will listen to you and respect you, it's because you let those childish impulses go. And people will be able to rely on you to be cool, calm, and gentle in your dealings with even the most hysterically wrong and angry people. They may even trust you to be able to see that the hysterical shouting angry person that no-one wants to listen to because they're rude is the one who's in the right.
And if you make a mistake, and bite before thinking? Apologize. Apologize sincerely, and apologize often. And mean it - you made a mistake, now is the time to suck it up and ask for forgiveness. What most people don't understand is that honestly admitting you were wrong is a tremendously powerful force for good; it also sets an excellent example for all the drama llamas out there. However, don't make a habit of screwing up, or no-one will take your apology seriously after the third time you do the exact same thing that pissed everyone off the first time. Make the effort to change your knee-jerk responses if they get you in hot water.
That's when it definitely sucks to be an adult, but the suck is short term. The payoff is huge.
*Not a real person.
**Also not a real person, but you knew that.
***Totally not a real person. *innocent*
****A real person.
*****Trust me, I know that metaphor sucks. It makes me giggle when I think about it though, so it's staying in.