in: Character, Etiquette, Featured

• Last updated: September 25, 2021

Being a Gentleman in the Age of the Internet: 6 Ways to Bring Civility Online

Victorian man with apple macbook computer drawing.

“All u need is one shell: for yourself. Done.”

“Nothing says survival like a tube of Carmex. Add a little to that condom you stored and protect the world from more people like you…”

The above comments were left on Tuesday’s post about building the Ultimate Survival Shotgun. That post was a big hit, quickly becoming one of our most popular articles of all time (thanks Creek!). But not everyone really got it—it was designed neither to be a humorous satire nor a super serious survival tutorial. Rather, it was simply supposed to showcase a fun project that also taught some of the basic principles of building a survival kit; it was meant to be an extremely cool look at a challenge a man set for himself—how to build a survival kit on a shotgun without any separate packs—and how he very cleverly accomplished the task.

Okay, so not everyone saw that, and even if they did, they still didn’t like it. That’s fine. We don’t expect everyone to like every article! But how does a man go from not liking a blog article to finding its author unworthy of reproduction or life?! I’ve come across plenty of blog posts that I’ve detested, but I’ve never made the leap from my distaste for a piece to thinking the author should off himself. Where does this kind of angry, cringe-inducing inhumanity come from?

Certainly the loss of empathy from interacting as anonymous, disembodied selves is a major factor. But the real root of the problem is how we view our time online; many see it as a break from their “real lives”—a place where they can let it all hang out. In their off-line lives they must be civil and refrain from telling their boss how they really feel about him, yelling at the customer service rep who’s giving them the runaround, and getting out of the car and punching the rude and reckless driver in front of them. The anger from this restraint boils inside of them, and online, freed from any real consequences, they unleash their pent-up venom.

But the world is spending more and more of its time online. For many, it has become our major source of education, entertainment, communication, and debate. Isn’t it time to let go of the false wall between our online lives and our “real” ones and act with the same kind of civility on the internet that we do in our day-to-day interactions?

Why a Man Should Strive to Be More Civil Online

A gentleman treats others with dignity and respect, regardless of the kind of forum in which he participates. He treats life’s fellow travelers as he himself would like to be treated. And in doing so, he makes the world a little better of a place everywhere he goes. He leaves those he interacts with feeling edified and uplifted instead of depressed and angry. Every man has the power to brighten his corner of the world, whether that corner be in the office, his home, or online. The more men who decide to take the higher road of civility, the more enjoyable everyone’s lives become. And choosing to reject our baser impulses in favor of our higher ones is a big part of becoming our best selves and building our legacy.

We all have daily annoyances that build up a well of anger inside of us. But instead of taking this rage out on others, it should be released healthily through things like exercise, meditation, and time spent in nature.

How to Be More Civil Online

Being a gentleman online simply involves the application of common sense. But anyone who leaves their home each day knows how uncommon common sense can be.

In our grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ time, etiquette books were extremely popular; believe it or not, Emily Post’s tome on the subject was one of the most requested books by GIs during World War II. Our forefathers understood something we often forget: no matter how common sense something is, without frequent reminders and practice, humans are drawn to the path of least resistance. While our culture has largely dropped these reminders to be our better selves, today we’ll fill in the gap by reviewing some common sense principles for being a gentleman online.

1. Remember that there are real people on the other side of the computer.

This is so easy to forget. We see only our screen and our empty apartment; the faces of folks out there who will be reading what we write seem unreal and nebulous. But they are out there. And your words can truly wound them. So when writing something, keep this rule in mind:

2. Never say something to someone online that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.

Perhaps the most important rule for online interactions. People level the kind of vitriol online they would assuredly never say to someone’s face. I know a website owner that sometimes figures out the phone numbers of those who leave extremely rude comments and calls them up to ask what made them say something like that. Inevitably, the confronted person, hearing the voice of a real human being, is reduced to a stammering, apologetic mess.

3. Use your real name.

This is simple: if you’re not proud enough of something to have it associated with your real name, then why are you writing it?

Yes, there are caveats to this rule–legitimate reasons for anonymity. But when typing in an alias, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Do you have a valid reason for doing so, or do you simply wish to avoid ownership of your words because they are rude?

4. Sit on it.

This is something I’ve had to learn by experience and still struggle with. You see something that makes your blood boil, you’re filled with the desire to absolutely eviscerate a person, and you furiously type out a scathing response and press send. And later you regret it.

Instead, go ahead and write out your comment to get it off your chest, but sit on it for several hours or even a day. I know it feels like you simply have to get it off your chest at that very moment, but your adrenaline and heart rate are up and you’re not thinking clearly. Give it some time and you’ll be amazed at how “I must respond!” will transform into “Eh, who cares?”

Comic about someone is wrong on the internet.


5. Or don’t respond at all.

Your mom was right: If you don’t have something nice to say, sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all. This is another thing I’ve learned from experience and still slip up with. I used to want to rebut every bit of criticism directed at me, but I’ve learned to choose my battles and that it’s often better not to get involved at all. Just let people do their thing. I know it’s difficult because when we feel someone is wrong, it’s so hard to let it go. We want to show people the error of their ways and change their minds.

But as sure as you are about being right, you can never win an online argument. Why? Because of something called the “backfire effect.” In this article on the effect by David McRaney, which I highly recommend reading, he explains the fact that far from changing people’s minds, threatening someone’s beliefs actually strengthens and entrenches them further. This is why I generally abstain from heated internet debates; they get you all worked up, waste your time, and go absolutely nowhere.

If you come across a discussion where you really feel like a different perspective needs to be added, just jump in and civilly state your case instead of responding directly to specific people. People are much more likely to consider your point of view when they experience it indirectly as opposed to feeling attacked.

6. Say something positive.

Studies have shown what people already know from experience: folks are more likely to make negative comments in online forums than positive ones. It makes sense; when something makes you angry, you’re much more motivated to complain about it and want to vent. McRaney explains why this is:

“A thousand positive remarks can slip by unnoticed, but one “you suck” can linger in your head for days. One hypothesis as to why this and the backfire effect happens is that you spend much more time considering information you disagree with than you do information you accept. Information which lines up with what you already believe passes through the mind like a vapor, but when you come across something which threatens your beliefs, something which conflicts with your preconceived notions of how the world works, you seize up and take notice. Some psychologists speculate there is an evolutionary explanation. Your ancestors paid more attention and spent more time thinking about negative stimuli than positive because bad things required a response. Those who failed to address negative stimuli failed to keep breathing.”

Well, I certainly want to keep breathing, but I don’t want to only respond to things that make me angry. So this is something I’ve been working on too. When I read a blog post I enjoy, I find it easy to think, “That was great,” before surfing away. So I’ve been trying to take a minute to type those thoughts out before moving on. As a blog owner myself, I know how incredibly encouraging it is to hear something positive.

How else can we cultivate civility online?


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