Listserv nadir

Two of the listservs I subscribe to have recently descended into an e-mail nadir of catty personal attacks and combative “discussions” that have made me wonder:

If Dante were alive today, would he create a special place in hell for the people who mount these attacks and the fools who continue to read them day after day?

(I keep reading them, so I am one of the fools.)

Part of the problem might be that many of these folks are writers, and writers scrutinize words and phrases for meaning. Writers also write for therapy, and let’s face it, we all need therapy sometimes. But this makes posting on a listserv group therapy, and there’s no shrink running the group and keeping things focused and under control.

Case No. 1: I won’t name the name here, but let’s just say this listserv is for local women who are media professionals. After one too many off-topic discussions about peach cobbler, someone posted the equivalent of, “What the hell? I thought this listserv was for media professionals.” This triggered a massive discussion about what the group is, who is in the group, what the group is for, how the group started, what the group is now. Which brings us to the “lurkers.”

You know what a lurker is. You are out there reading this right now. You’ve never commented on my posts, and I might not know you, but there you are, reading these words. You are a lurker.

And I don’t care. Lurk away. I’m happy to have lurkers. But the lurkers caused a stir on this other listserv. Some don’t like it. Some don’t like the word “lurker.” (It is a rather nasty word for something so innocuous.) Some defending lurking, citing work and children and elderly parents and busy lives. Which brings us to working moms and kids v. no kids.

Okay, I don’t need to detail this battle, because you’ve heard the arguments before. Let’s just say that being childless and a lurker and also completely exhausted after days of watching the struggle to define a group with more than 300 women with diverse interests in the media, I thought it prudent to end my lurking. I’m still on the list; I just ignore the irrelevant posts.

Will my renunciation warrant a reprieve from Dante? Or will I be kicked out of group therapy for not participating? (Or if one of them reads my post here and is insulted?) I don’t know, but that’s only the first listserv.

Case No. 2: My journalism school has a list for alums. We are all underpaid, overworked, unemployed, understaffed, saddled with student loans — basically we’re an angst-ridden bunch. So when someone posts a job (which is potentially helping someone out) that contains one of the following common phrases:

“Great opportunity to get your work published in a new market!”

“Successful candidate is more concerned with quality work than a paycheck.”

“Pay isn’t great, but it’s a chance to have your work published in (insert publication name here).”

People who are struggling to get by — and who have been taught by our alma mater to scrutinize words and phrases for meaning — get a little pissy.

To make matters worse, while people are coming to blows over how these great opportunities for low pay actually devalue one’s work, someone’s out-of-office reply is going off, flooding people’s mailboxes every time someone posts their take on the low-pay-devalues debate. This prompts an alum with a Blackberry to complain about out-of-office replies, which are apparently extra painful on a Blackberry (?), which then prompts others to tell him to suck it up or subscribe to the daily digest instead of the individual e-mails, which prompts me to delete the messages as they come in without reading them and wonder what happened to the camaraderie we shared when we were in J-school and all in this together.

Tired yet? Me too. I’m ready to call my pal Jeff, who is a mediator and longtime Zen practitioner, because apparently we need an alum from the LLM program to mediate. And offer a little sound Zen advice.

If your Blackberry goes off and you’re not there to hear it, does it make a sound?

What did this listserv look like before your parents were born?

I suppose I’m mixing themes now with my Zen and my Dante, but there really is a point here that involves both: we’re all suffering. But why should we take it out on each other like this? We have so much in common. Why can’t we substitute our combative attitudes for compassionate ones when we’re all suffering — even suffering in the same way?

I’m sure the answer is the usual suspect: ego. But if I posted that, they’d all write me into a place in hell even Dante never thought of. So in the meantime, I take refuge in Writer L, a listserv whose members post thoughtful commentary and rarely allow anything that could be construed as a personal attack…and have guardians who watch over it and direct the conversation when they’re not ascending the mountain with Dante. And that reminds me of my favorite haiku:

Climb Mount Fuji

O snail

But slowly, slowly.

Good advice for non-snails posting on listservs. Go slowly and have compassion before you post, o snail.

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