It took less than two hours. Most of my posts take days or weeks to research, draft, illustrate, and revise, but this one took less than two hours. And it was off-message: This blog is about teaching, and I rarely stray from that focus. But on that day, I decided to use my small platform to vent about how many spaces one should put after a period.
In a few days, it became the most-read post I’ve written in a year of blogging.
At first, it was amazing. All my numbers got bigger: Facebook “Likes,” Twitter followers, email subscribers. My daily advertising income, which is based on site traffic and would normally cover a pack of gum, was bringing in sums that could actually buy me a meal.
Then the comments started coming. Some were what I expected: people with the 2-space habit who couldn’t stop themselves, or who never knew the practice had changed and accepted my tip with a baffled kind of gratitude.
Some disagreed for stylistic or historical reasons. Fine. Those didn’t bother me, and they gave me a more well-rounded understanding of the topic. But others had more of a problem with me: These were the ones I wasn’t ready for.
Why the overbearing, scolding tone?
The new APA Style Manual now says to use 2 spaces. All your ranting just shows that you are the one behind the times.
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD IN THIS WORLD – GET OVER IT!! There are many, MANY more important things going on in this world.
One guy called me a hack. Another woman simply tweeted, “Grammar snob & ageism in one!” My phone, my computer, all of my notification systems chirped away, telling me that more and more people were reading my post. The sounds should have thrilled me; instead, they made me feel a little sick…more negative comments were surely on their way.
What bothered me the most was not that people disagreed with me, it was their snarky, hostile tone. They don’t even know me, I thought. And how can they call me ageist? I said I was over 40, too! It was just meant to be funny! Why are they being so mean?
And then it hit me: They were being mean because I was mean first.
My title was ageist. The graphic I added to it was snotty. I put snark out into the world and that’s exactly what I got back. Without the snark, the post probably wouldn’t have gone viral. But it came at a cost.
Then I got the comment that really made me think. It came from someone who simply called himself Jim C.
Jennifer – I respect your right to use one space. I do, however, take issue with three things about your post. The first, and by far the most important, is your support of the denigration of older people. We live in an era of age discrimination. If you don’t think it is a problem, talk to some folks over 55 who have tried to, or have been forced to, change jobs recently. Your post, and your follow up comments, state that the reason people incorrectly (in your view) use two spaces after a full stop is because they are old, ignorant, and stuck in their old ways. This is offensive. Is this really what you want the teachers who look to you for advice to be teaching their students?
I haven’t stopped thinking about Jim’s comment since I got it.
While the other ones stung and made me feel defensive, Jim’s was kind. He held my feet to the fire, for sure, but he was nice about it. His comment was decidedly un-snarky. So I was able to relax into it and really absorb his message. And for the first time, instead of feeling defensive, I felt deep regret for mocking older people.
I should have known better. I had seen the episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004, when In Living Color actress Kim Wayans apologized for the way she portrayed Oprah in her show’s sketches. “The person that I am now wouldn’t do a sketch like that. Funny doesn’t trump being mean for me anymore, and I apologize.”
Funny doesn’t trump mean. It was a quote that had stuck with me from that point on. But apparently it didn’t stick hard enough.
I thought my headline and graphic were funny. Yep. And judging by Facebook shares, a few thousand other people did, too. Only now do I understand that that kind of funny only amuses those who are in on the joke. To the butts of the joke, that kind of funny is just mean.
That’s no way to teach. And on this site, I’m teaching all the time. Exponentially, really, since I’m teaching teachers how to teach. If I start a lesson by embarrassing my students, I lose them right away. Who wants to put themselves in a situation where they might look out of touch, ignorant, or naïve? No one wants to play the fool, and if I want someone to be open to receiving new information, I should never put them in a fool’s position.
The next time I fire off a post in two hours, after the editing and proofreading are done, I’ll be sure to do one last check for snark. And I’ll silently thank people like Jim for showing me how it’s done. ♦