Whither Next? Continuous Improvement in Civility

continous improvement

I’ve been appreciative in the last year of working with some folks at SAF whose day job is auditing forest activities. Many (all?) of those certification systems are based on the concept of continuous improvement. The people I’m thinking of bring that to their work with other organizations, and so I guess I have gotten some of that orientation as well. In addition, this is the season of Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Folks, so bringing improvement to civil dialogue seems to be an appropriate topic.

When I think about continuous improvement for our blog, I wonder if we could be more welcoming, in the sense that more folks would feel less likely to be attacked, and more comfortable sharing their opinions. I have wondered about the gender distribution here on the blog. Certainly females have been involved in natural resources for the last 50 years or so, and might have perspectives of value. Why are so few on this blog? Is it the atmosphere?

I’d like to hear directly (and if you don’t feel comfortable saying it publicly anyone interested in improvement, please send an email to “terraveritas(at)gmail.com”. You won’t hurt my feelings, so please be honest. (I had a boss once who said he thought I was doing a lousy job, but didn’t tell me because he thought it would “hurt my feelings”. Of course, getting effectively fired kind of did hurt my feelings. Another illustration of the importance of the culture of continuous improvement.)

In the widget on the right of the blog, we have these considerations:

When commenting, please consider the three doors that charitable speech must pass through. The gatekeeper at the door asks, “Is it true?” The second gatekeeper asks, “Is it helpful?” The third gatekeeper asks, “Is it kind?” (adapted from the writings of Krishnamurti by James Martin on p. 169 of this book.)

I’m beginning to think that some additional guidance for the blog might be helpful. We have kind of randomly arrived at some. I looked around on the internet but did not find very much directly related. If you know of some helpful guidance please send to me to post.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do, regardless of our favorite topics, is model respectful behavior with those whom we disagree. That’s, in my opinion, what the world needs now (in addition to “love sweet love,” as per Burt Bacharach, for those of you who are old enough to remember that song..).

I wish there were a plug-in I could run automatically to remove disrespect and snark; but there is a slippery slope and there is no such plug-in.

Anyway, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. “I disagree”.. those are powerful words. That’s all you need to say. Don’t add, “you are being …..”

2. We are all individuals. so “you protectionists” or whatever doesn’t work. Now it may make sense to say “groups that advocate protection” because that is a helpful distinction, but it is OK to ask “what groups do you mean?”.

3. If someone posts something not written by them, they are not expected to defend it. On the other hand, people can disagree with the claims made therein and provide reasons for their disagreement.

4. My dear friend, the Forest Service Eeyore, was the first one I ever heard mention the word “content-free”. You need to have something to back up a claim. Experience is fine. A logical argument based on what you have found to be facts is fine. Scientific information is fine as long as you provide the cite and the exact point that the article makes that substantiates your claim.

5. Since no one is the rule enforcement officer of this blog, each person is empowered to point out violations of this rule. Another approach is to simply not reply to someone. However, I’m not sure this is helpful in terms of the author of the comment and their opportunities to improve.

6. It would be nice to not assume the worst about other people about groups before you find out the information. Here’s an example “the Forest Service is trying to keep information from people” compared to “I would like this information, I wonder why they don’t provide it?” We don’t really understand people’s motivations, so let’s focus on their behavior (I think I heard that at a work team-building effort). Take EAJA fees. I don’t think groups do it “for the money.” But what difference does it make what their motivations are, if you find the behavior irritating or counterproductive, just say so, and the reasons for why you think that.

What do you all think? Is this setting the bar too low or too high? Do you have more suggestions or do you disagree with what’s here?

8 thoughts on “Whither Next? Continuous Improvement in Civility”

  1. I’m sure I’m one of those in mind when Sharon suggests we play nice. But forest policy and planning is not a nice game with nice results. There have been bad consequences of bad policy and while the proponents of such bad outcomes might not be “bad” themselves — I mean, what if you have a nice dog that keeps chewing the furniture?

  2. Well, since you asked:

    In the past I have found the content of posts here inconsistent. Some posts are great, others are not. The comments are consistently combative or otherwise repulsive to me (a problem shared by almost all comments sections). I may have contributed to this atmosphere myself on occasion, but I don’t like it. The hit and miss content and sometimes repulsive comments keep me from coming here often, and keep me from pointing others here. I haven’t been here in a while, so things might have changed.

    Short of hiring an editor to review every post and revamping the authors lineup the is one thing that you could consider to change the atmosphere here: moving comments to twitter. Blogger David Hobby has taken this approach:


    I could easily follow and share the blog from twitter, and I could easily ignore some of the “noise.”

  3. Ohhh..perhaps now a bit overstated Hamis given the improved tone over last weeks. I have been one to complain the most about the tone, and was harsh a few times on that, and almost dropped off completely but it has gotten better.

    I have called a few people out, sometimes on easier terms than others. It has gotten better, if it had not, this thing was headed for the grave.

    There is a tendency for people to rant on the internet, a common problem but one we can work past. I might guess the average age of us is over 50, we have a few skills younger ranters might not yet.

    And yes, I see few women commenting here. Getting chewed up on a blog does not appeal to many.

  4. I just whacked someone on another thread for bad behavior, no more nice nice, and that goes for everyone.

    But, I can forgive and forget, the only reason I might appear civil is the edit function and lemme tell ya, if people could edit their own posts after sending out a barb on this blog, the world will be a happier place.

    My feelings about the FS are this: I might have been mean to my younger brothers but I just hated anyone else doing it so I always stick up for the feds.

  5. Suggestion: Avoid putting thoughts in other people’s heads, and words in other peoples mouths. I too often see gross generalizations made about the views of conservationists, as if they are all zero cutters, or hold odd views made up by the author as a way of demonizing the conservation movement, or as a unethical “red-herring” rhetorical device.

    • Yes, and anyone who wants to cut trees is a minion of international corporatism. I agree 2ndLaw, if we could just get rid of those two generalities, we would be doing a good thing.


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