Online conversations are a beast of a different nature, one that often reveals the true level of insanity with which we are all living, unable to pass an opportunity to express our most important opinions or point-countering here-say. I’m sad to say I have left many a conversation, a group even, when I start to see the kinds of issues I will describe here. I bet you know them well too; you might have even committed of a few. I know I have.
So, I must start by saying that I have been just as guilty as anyone in being what I refer to as “teachy.” So, what do I mean by “teachy?” This word describes replies to comments that are meant to explain or enlighten the original poster.
I learned the hard way to overcome it in old fashioned face-to-face conversation when I was called out for it in a large group of people, and as red-faced as it made me that day, I’m glad for it. Now, perhaps my experience can save a few more people from the sting of learning the hard way.
It is a conundrum to teach people about the problem of being "teachy" without myself coming across as “teachy.” However, as it is one of my lingering pet peeves and strong desires to engage in conversations of a much different nature, I have decided to go for it and risk the lectures I will be given by those with whom this strikes an uncomfortable chord.
While there’s nothing wrong with explaining something or even trying to enlighten someone to something they don't already know or cannot see, the problem arises when an explanation was neither requested or warranted in the first place. And worse is when the attempt to enlighten is directed at someone who very likely already knows what you are trying to enlighten them with. I think some examples are in order.
Let’s say someone posts something rhetorical:
Why can’t I f&#@ing sleep!
To most people, this will clearly be a cry of frustration and NOT an appeal for remedy. Yet, time and again, someone will come through with helpful advice such as:
Have you tried turning off the lights and closing your eyes?
This kind of, quite obvious comment may indeed come out of a genuine desire to help the person’s state of sleeplessness. But in the end, it doesn’t quite grasp the nature of the original expression. In fact, it is probably more about the responder really needing to be helpful. Or maybe they simply have an unconscious need to alleviate their own discomfort with the emotional nature of the original post (“I don’t know why you can’t sleep! It’s not my fault!”)
Let’s say it really WAS a plea for help:
I can’t f&#@ing sleep! Can anyone help?
Now it is obvious that the poster is, in fact, requesting solutions, ideas, etc. So feel free to have at it and offer all the advice you care to muster from great-grandma's kitchen cure to the advice of your friend's friend's accountant. See the difference?
TMOTI—Too Much Off-Topic Information
Maybe the original post is more of a statement:
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. My dog kept barking.
In the following example, one risks becoming “teachy” when becoming a slightly-off-topic expert:
Some people with certain melatonin deficiencies have difficulty sleeping. It’s called Melatonin Deficiency Sleeplessness Disorder. You probably have it. My Aunt Zelda had it. She’s dead now.
They are the kind of comments that leave you asking yourself, “What?” They tend to ignore half of the original post, responding only to part of it out of context, or offer up information no one really needs to know. This can arise when one fails to actually understand what was originally written. Instead, the responder thinks he knows what the original poster said and meant when, in fact, he's hallucinated an entirely different and nonexistent conversation in order to show what he knows.
You You You, It's All About You
Another tactless "teachy" interaction can be those kinds of comments in which instead of the responder taking ownership by saying “I feel” or “I should,” it becomes “you feel” or “you should” or possibly even “we.”
Let’s say the original post is:
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
The response would be something like:
You really need to do some relaxation before bed. When your mind is full of worry and fear, you’re just not going to be able to rest well. Go meditate!
Imagine how much more clean and useful it would be for the person to have said:
I do too. I find I need to relax before bed. When my mind is full of worry and fear, I’m just not going to rest well. I should probably meditate more.
Now, the original poster is free to think, “Hmm… is that my problem too?” without having it rammed up their reality like a 20 foot log. Get it?
Or this comment crime-committer might say something like:
“We just all need to take a deep breath and learn to relax.”
Remember, the original question was “what do YOU do?” not “what should I do?” or “what should we all do?”
A slight variation on this theme happens often in spiritual circles. For example, if someone posts a confession of sorts:
I am so angry I cannot sleep. I know I must let it go, if I ever want to sleep so I'm doing some anger-relieving exercises now.
The spiritual deflector, who secretly has the same experience but can't bear anyone to know it, lest he spoils his superior image, then replies with something like:
That anger isn't going to do you any good. One day, you'll just decide it isn't worth it and let it go with love and light.
Oh, ick!!! First of all, the person obviously knows the anger isn't helping matters and secondly, they are already doing something about it! This kind of guru-one-upmanship actually triggers my gag reflex.
The "I Know Shit" 'Splainer
And last but not least, there is the ever-so-uncharming ‘splainer.
I wish I could get some sleep. Is anyone else having trouble sleeping?
Now, instead of responding to the actual question with their own sleeping troubles (or lack of them), the ‘splainer tries to enlighten the original poster with her wisdom:
Sleep is what happens when your state of consciousness shifts and your brain waves go from the active beta state to a delta state. I’m sure one day you’ll be able to sleep if you just contemplate these wise words of mine.
To which the original poster might be tempted to respond:
Um, what does that have to do with my question?
To which the ‘splainer will respond with something defensive such as:
You said you couldn’t sleep. I was simply trying to help you understand sleep. You shouldn’t ask people if you don’t want to be told.
And even though there is no winning with this type of “last word” ‘splainer, the original poster might be tempted to respond with:
I know what sleep is. This IS a doctor’s group, after all. Dufus!
But it never ends well, as the ‘splainer is sure to respond with something like:
There’s no need to call a person names. I was just trying to help you see what you clearly don’t want to look at. Good luck getting any sleep with that denial!
Uh, yeah, right.
Has this shake down of "teachy-ness" reminded you of any recent online conversations? Maybe you were on the receiving end; if so, you have my sympathies. Maybe you were the one dishing it out. If so, don’t be a “teachy-ass dingdong! Follow these five important rules:
- If a question is rhetorical and you MUST respond with something, acknowledge that you understood it to be rhetorical first.
- Try to read the entire original post and understand it before you respond.
- For God’s sake, stay on topic.
- Write about what your only true expertise is: your own damn experience.
- Preaching to the choir is a real bore. Stop trying to teach people shit they might or probably already know. When unsure, assume the best.